The Mystery of the Pigtail in Space

Scientists have found a cloud of gas that has been twisted into a pigtail right in the center of our galaxy. It seems that we often find these massive "pigtails" in space. Want to find out why?

Observing the sky with a radio telescope, researchers from Keio University found what they briefly called a giant "helical molecular cloud" in the galactic center. They quickly renamed it a "pigtail" cloud, and set about studying it more closely. And it wasn't an anomaly. There seem to be a lot of pigtails in space — especially around the jets of black holes and in the corona of the sun. What causes the universe to make these corkscrew curls?

The Mystery of the Pigtail in Space

Magnets! Or at least magnetic force. Scientists noticed that the cosmic pigtails tended to be around a lot of astronomical phenomena associated with magnetic forces. When two molecular clouds find themselves on a collision course next to a structure with high magnetic flux, a few things happen, according to Keio scientists:

The magnetic "tube" perpendicular to the galactic disc exists between two giant molecular clouds. Those clouds move along the main two elliptical orbits around the galactic nucleus. The magnetic tube is twisted and squeezed to become a helical structure during the frictional contact. The molecular gas is captured by the twisted magnetic tube, and then forms the "pigtail" molecular cloud.

Alternately, pigtails could form in space for the same reason they form on pigs - as an unintended consequence of domestication. Probably, though, the astronomers have it right.

Via Nobeyama Radio Observatory and Keio University and Newton Ask a Scientist.