Letter | Published:

Giant magnetized outflows from the centre of the Milky Way

Nature volume 493, pages 6669 (03 January 2013) | Download Citation


The nucleus of the Milky Way is known to harbour regions of intense star formation activity as well as a supermassive black hole1. Recent observations have revealed regions of γ-ray emission reaching far above and below the Galactic Centre (relative to the Galactic plane), the so-called ‘Fermi bubbles’2. It is uncertain whether these were generated by nuclear star formation or by quasar-like outbursts of the central black hole3,4,5,6 and no information on the structures’ magnetic field has been reported. Here we report observations of two giant, linearly polarized radio lobes, containing three ridge-like substructures, emanating from the Galactic Centre. The lobes each extend about 60 degrees in the Galactic bulge, closely corresponding to the Fermi bubbles, and are permeated by strong magnetic fields of up to 15 microgauss. We conclude that the radio lobes originate in a biconical, star-formation-driven (rather than black-hole-driven) outflow from the Galaxy’s central 200 parsecs that transports a huge amount of magnetic energy, about 1055 ergs, into the Galactic halo. The ridges wind around this outflow and, we suggest, constitute a ‘phonographic’ record of nuclear star formation activity over at least ten million years.

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This work has been carried out in the framework of the S-band Polarization All Sky Survey collaboration (S-PASS). We thank the Parkes Telescope staff for support, both while setting up the non-standard observing mode and during the observing runs. R.M.C. thanks F. Aharonian, R. Beck, G. Bicknell, D. Jones, C. Law, M. Morris, C. Pfrommer, W. Reich, A. Stolte, T. Porter and H. Völk for discussions, and the Max-Planck-Institut für Kernphysik for supporting his research. R.M.C. also acknowledges the support of a Future Fellowship from the Australian Research Council through grant FT110100108. B.M.G. and C.P. acknowledge the support of an Australian Laureate Fellowship from the Australian Research Council through grant FL100100114. M.H. acknowledges the support of research programme 639.042.915, which is partly financed by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO). The Parkes Radio Telescope is part of the Australia Telescope National Facility, which is funded by the Commonwealth of Australia for operation as a National Facility managed by CSIRO. We acknowledge the use of WMAP data and the HEALPix software package.

Author information


  1. CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science, PO Box 276, Parkes, New South Wales 2870, Australia

    • Ettore Carretti
  2. Max-Planck-Institut für Kernphysik, PO Box 103980, 69029 Heidelberg, Germany

    • Roland M. Crocker
  3. Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics, Australian National University, Weston Creek, Australian Capital Territory 2611, Australia

    • Roland M. Crocker
  4. International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research, M468, University of Western Australia, Crawley, Western Australia 6009, Australia

    • Lister Staveley-Smith
  5. ARC Centre of Excellence for All-sky Astrophysics (CAASTRO), M468, University of Western Australia, 35 Stirling Highway, Crawley, Western Australia 6009, Australia

    • Lister Staveley-Smith
  6. Department of Astrophysics/IMAPP, Radboud University Nijmegen, PO Box 9010, 6500 GL Nijmegen, The Netherlands

    • Marijke Haverkorn
  7. Leiden Observatory, Leiden University, PO Box 9513, 2300 RA Leiden, The Netherlands

    • Marijke Haverkorn
  8. Sydney Institute for Astronomy, School of Physics, The University of Sydney, New South Wales 2006, Australia

    • Cormac Purcell
    •  & B. M. Gaensler
  9. Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, 60 Garden Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, USA

    • Gianni Bernardi
  10. CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science, PO Box 76, Epping, New South Wales 1710, Australia

    • Michael J. Kesteven
  11. INAF Osservatorio Astronomico di Cagliari, Strada 54 Località Poggio dei Pini, I-09012 Capoterra (CA), Italy

    • Sergio Poppi


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E.C. performed the S-PASS observations, was the leader of the project, developed and performed the data reduction package, and did the main analysis and interpretation. R.M.C. provided theoretical analysis and interpretation. L.S.-S., M.H. and S.P. performed the S-PASS observations. M.J.K. performed the telescope special set-up that allowed the survey execution. L.S.-S., M.H., B.M.G., G.B., M.J.K. and S.P. were co-proposers and contributed to the definition of the project. C.P. performed the estimate of the Hα depolarizing region distance. E.C. and R.M.C. wrote the paper together. All the authors discussed the results and commented on the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Ettore Carretti.

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    Supplementary Information

    This file contains Supplementary Text and Data 1-9, Supplementary Tables 1-3, additional references and Supplementary Figures 1-6.

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