Scientists working with NASA were able to uncover the mysterious factors that might be responsible for creating the unique shape of spiral galaxies. They were able to do so by unveiling an invisible feature of galaxies.
Spiral galaxies are probably the most popular type of galaxies in the universe because of their distinct shape, which is characterized by the cosmic arms that swirl away from the center. But, despite the number of known spiral galaxies, it is not yet clear how their shapes were formed.
Unveiling The Galaxy's Magnetic Fields
In a recent study carried out by scientists of NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), they used infrared imaging technology to view the features of the spiral galaxy known as NGC 1068. Through this method, they were able to observe the galaxy's magnetic fields, which are invisible to the human eye. Based on their observations, the scientist noticed that the magnetic fields follow the shape of the galaxy's arms.
"Magnetic fields are invisible, but they may influence the evolution of a galaxy," Enrique Lopez-Rodriguez of the SOFIA Science Center explained in a statement. "We have a pretty good understanding of how gravity affects galactic structures, but we're just starting to learn the role magnetic fields play."
Shaping A Spiral Galaxy
By being able to observe the once-invisible feature of the galaxy, the scientist theorized that unseen gravitational forces can affect the shape and direction of the magnetic fields. This causes the galaxy's arms where the magnetic fields are to follow the direction that the gravitational fields force them into.
The scientist explained that this concept is similar to the density wave theory, which states that the cosmic materials within a galaxy's arms are not stationary. Instead, like the magnetic fields, they can be forced to move into different directions based on the effect of the gravitational forces. The findings of the scientists were presented in a new study published in the Astrophysical Journal.