Stunning Image Shows Galaxy's X-shaped Magnetic Field Stretching for 22,500 Light-years

Astronomers have detected rare and never-before-seen features in the magnetic field of a galaxy 67 million light-years away from Earth.

Located in the constellation Ursa Major, the star forming, spiral galaxy—known as NGC 4217—is similar to our own Milky Way in many respects.

For a study published in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics, an international team of scientists analyzed data collected by astronomical radio observatories as part of a survey of 35 galaxies seen from the side known as "CHANG-ES" (Continuum HAlos in Nearby Galaxies - an EVLA Survey.)

"We were interested in this galaxy particularly because it is of similar size and produces a similar amount of stars per year in comparison to the Milky Way," Yelena Stein, an author of the study from the Centre de Données astronomiques de Strasbourg, France, told Newsweek.

The researchers found that NGC 4217's magnetic field is X-shaped, which is not uncommon in observations of galaxies seen from the side. However, this galaxy's magnetic field is remarkable, stretching far outwards, as much as 22,500 light-years beyond its disk, which is "rare," according to Stein.

The vast X-shaped field can be seen as green lines in an image created by the researchers, which combines data collected by the National Science Foundation's Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) radio telescope and images captured in visible light by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey and Kitt Peak National Observatory.

The researchers also identified a helix-shaped structure in the magnetic field, which has never been observed before, as well as two vast bubble-like features, known as "superbubbles."

galaxy NGC 4217
Radio wave and visible light composite image of the edge-on spiral galaxy NGC 4217 with magnetic field lines (green) extending far above and below the plane of the galaxy. Y. Stein CDS), NRAO, SDSS, KPNO 0.9m, J. English U. Manitoba), R.-J. Dettmar and A. Miskolczi Ruhr U., R.J. Rand (U.N.M., and J. Irwin (Queen’s U.

"Huge superbubble structures are usually seen around active centers of galaxies," Stein said. "But the superbubbles in NGC 4217 are not located in the center, they are located off-center. To my knowledge, this is a new finding too."

According to Stein, the superbubbles are probably created by the combined action of massive stars exploding as supernovae and stellar winds, or streams of charged particles, emanating from several star-forming regions.

In addition, the researchers identified large loop-like structures along the entire galactic disk of NGC 4217—a phenomenon that has also never been observed before.

"We suspect that the structures are caused by star formation, because at these points matter is thrown outward," Stein said in a statement.

Because of the similarities between NGC 4217 and the Milky Way, the researchers hope that the results of the latest study could help to shed light on our galaxy's magnetic field, which we cannot observe from the same perspective.