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What if our eyes could see radio waves?

If we could, we might be able to look up into the sky and see a tunnel of rope-like filaments made of radio waves. The structure would be about 1,000 light-years long and would be about 350 light-years away.

This tunnel explains two of the brightest radio features in the sky.

Astronomers discovered the North Polar Spur and the Fan Region in the 1960s when radio astronomy was getting going. The North Polar Spur is a massive ridge of hot gas that rises above the plane of the Milky Way. It emits x-rays and radio waves. Over the decades since its discovery, there’s been an ongoing discussion about what it actually is and how far away it is. Astronomers thought it could be related to the Fermi Bubbles or a feature carved out by ancient supernovae explosions.

The Fan Region is one of the most dominant polarized radio features in the sky. There’s debate about the nature of the Fan Region, too, with some saying it’s a local feature and some arguing that it’s on a galactic scale.

The Galaxy seen in radio waves in the conventional view with the Galactic centre in the middle of the image. Credit: Haslam et al. (1982) with annotations by J. West.
The Galaxy is seen in radio waves in the conventional view with the Galactic centre in the middle of the image. Credit: Haslam et al. (1982) with annotations by J. West.

A team of researchers from Canada and the US presents evidence in a new paper showing that the pair of features are connected. The paper’s title is “A Unified Model for the Fan Region and the North Polar Spur: A bundle of filaments in the Local Galaxy.” The lead author is Dr. Jennifer West, Research Associate at the Dunlap Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of Toronto.

“If we were to look up in the sky, we would see this tunnel-like structure in just about every direction we looked – that is, if we had eyes that could see radio light.”

Dr. Jennifer West, Dunlap Institute for Astronomy

The authors say that both the NPS and the Fan Region are parts of the same feature. The feature is made up of 1,000 light-years long “ropes,” which themselves are made up of charged particles and a magnetic field. They’re right in front of our eyes, but we can’t see them. “If we were to look up in the sky,” explains West, “we would see this tunnel-like structure in just about every direction we looked – that is, if we had eyes that could see radio light.”

This image from the study shows the tunnel at 30 GHz. The North Polar Spur sweeps up and to the right, while the Fan Region is on the left. Image Credit: West et al,  2021.
This image from the study shows the tunnel at 30 GHz. The North Polar Spur sweeps up and to the right, while the Fan Region is on the left. Image Credit: West et al., 2021.

“Magnetic fields don’t exist in isolation,” West explains in a press release. The trick was to figure out how these two were connected. West thinks that her team is the first group of astronomers to join the pair of features.

West says she’s been thinking about the pair of features for 15 years since she first saw a radio map of the sky. In recent years she’s built a computer model that shows what the radio sky would look like from Earth as she changed the shape and location of the long radio ropes. The model made it possible to “build” the radio structure around us. It showed her what the sky would look like through radio telescopes. The model gave her a new perspective that helped her match the data to the observed data.

A paper from 1965 played a role in the discovery.

“A few years ago, one
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A Planetary Disk in the Orion Nebula is Destroying and Replenishing Oceans of Water Every Month

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Planet-forming disks are places of chaotic activity. Not only do planetesimals slam together to form larger worlds, but it now appears that the process involves the destructive recycling of water within a disk. That’s the conclusion from scientists studying JWST data from a planetary birth crèche called d203-506 in the Orion Nebula.

The data they studied suggest that an amount of water equivalent to all of Earth’s oceans is created and replenished in a relatively short period—about a month. According to study co-lead Els Peeters at Western University in Canada, it was relatively easy to discover this process in the protoplanetary disk. “This discovery was based on a tiny fraction of our spectroscopic data,” she said. “It is exciting that we have so much more data to mine and I can’t wait to see what else we can find.”

The Orion Nebula is a vast active star- and planet-forming region and the d203-506 protoplanetary disk lies within it at a distance of about 1,350 light-years away from Earth. Astronomers study the nebula to understand all aspects of star birth since there are so many newborn stars there. In addition, many are surrounded by disks of gas and dust, called protoplanetary disks (proplyds, for short). Those regions are excellent places to observe planet-formation processes, and particularly the interplay between the young stars and their disks.

The Orion Nebula, one of the most studied objects in the sky. It's likely that many of its protostars and their planetary disks contain water in some form. Image: NASA
The Orion Nebula is one of the most studied objects in the sky. Many of its protostars and their planetary disks likely contain water in some form. Image: NASA

The Water Cycle of a Proplyd

We all know that water is an important ingredient for life. It certainly played a role in creating and sustaining life on our planet. As it turns out, water is a significant fraction of the materials in a proplyd. In the infant Solar System, water existed throughout our proplyd long before any of the planets formed, largely in their icy form, either as icy bodies or locked into asteroids and planetesimals. It also exists in interstellar space.

This view of Earth’s horizon was taken by an Expedition 7 crewmember onboard the International Space Station, using a wide-angle lens while the Station was over the Pacific Ocean. A new study suggests that Earth's water didn't all come from comets, but likely also came from water-rich planetesimals.  Credit: NASA
This view of Earth’s horizon by an Expedition 7 crewmember onboard the International Space Station. A new study suggests that Earth’s water didn’t all come from comets, but likely also came from water-rich planetesimals. Credit: NASA

Most of Earth’s water got delivered to the forming planet over millions of years. It melted or outgassed to form the oceans, rivers, and lakes we see today. But, some fraction of the water in our system’s birth disk probably went through a “freeze-thaw” cycle within the disk. That happened when the Solar System was still just a disk of gas and dust. The water was essentially destroyed and then re-formed at higher temperatures.

We can’t see that effect anymore in our system. But, astronomers can point telescopes at other proplyds to see if the same process happens there. That’s what Peeters and her team did. They used JWST to look at d203-506. There, bright young stars flood the nearby regions in the proplyd with intense ultraviolet radiation. The UV breaks up water molecules to form hydroxyl molecules and that process also releases infrared light. JWST can search out that light and report back on how much hydroxyl
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The 12 Best Hikes in Utah’s National Parks

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By Michael Lanza

From natural arches, hoodoos, and hanging gardens to balanced rocks and towering mesas, slot canyons and vast chasms, the desert Southwest holds in its dry, searing, lonely open spaces some of America’s most fascinating and inspiring geology. The writer “Cactus Ed” Abbey no doubt had this region in mind when he said there “are some places so beautiful they can make a grown man break down and weep.” Much of it sits protected within southern Utah’s five national parks: Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches, Canyonlands, and Capitol Reef.

The good news? Many of the best sights can be reached on dayhikes of anywhere from a couple hours to a full day.

A hiker below the Wall of Windows on the Peek-a-Boo Loop in Bryce Canyon National Park.
” data-image-caption=”Cyndi Hayes hiking below the Wall of Windows on the Peek-a-Boo Loop in Bryce Canyon National Park.
” data-medium-file=”https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/Bryce2-013-Wall-of-Windows-Peek-a-Boo-loop-Bryce-Canyon-UT.jpg?fit=300%2C199&ssl=1″ data-large-file=”https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/Bryce2-013-Wall-of-Windows-Peek-a-Boo-loop-Bryce-Canyon-UT.jpg?fit=900%2C598&ssl=1″ src=”https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/Bryce2-013-Wall-of-Windows-Peek-a-Boo-loop-Bryce-Canyon-UT.jpg?resize=900%2C598&ssl=1″ alt=”A hiker below the Wall of Windows on the Peek-a-Boo Loop in Bryce Canyon National Park.” class=”wp-image-43917″ srcset=”https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/Bryce2-013-Wall-of-Windows-Peek-a-Boo-loop-Bryce-Canyon-UT.jpg?resize=1024%2C680&ssl=1 1024w, https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/Bryce2-013-Wall-of-Windows-Peek-a-Boo-loop-Bryce-Canyon-UT.jpg?resize=300%2C199&ssl=1 300w, https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/Bryce2-013-Wall-of-Windows-Peek-a-Boo-loop-Bryce-Canyon-UT.jpg?resize=768%2C510&ssl=1 768w, https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/Bryce2-013-Wall-of-Windows-Peek-a-Boo-loop-Bryce-Canyon-UT.jpg?w=1200&ssl=1 1200w” sizes=”(max-width: 900px) 100vw, 900px” data-recalc-dims=”1″ />Cyndi Hayes hiking below the Wall of Windows on the Peek-a-Boo Loop in Bryce Canyon National Park.
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Hi, I’m Michael Lanza, creator of The Big Outside. Click here to sign up for my FREE email newsletter. Join The Big Outside to get full access to all of my blog’s stories. Click here for my e-books to classic backpacking trips. Click here to learn how I can help you plan your next trip.

The list below of the best dayhikes in southern Utah’s national parks derives from numerous trips I’ve made to each of these parks over the past three decades, including the 10 years I spent as a field editor for Backpacker magazine and even longer running this blog. Use my list as your compass, and I guarantee you will knock off the best hikes in these parks.

I’d love to read your thoughts about my list—and your suggestions for dayhikes that belong on it. Please share them in the comments section at the bottom of this story. I try to respond to all comments, and as I continue to explore more trails, I will regularly update this story.

A teenage boy hiking Angels Landing, Zion National Park.
” data-image-caption=”My son, Nate, hiking Angels Landing in Zion National Park.
” data-medium-file=”https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/Zion5-015-Angels-Landing-Zion-National-Park.-copy.-copy.jpg?fit=300%2C200&ssl=1″ data-large-file=”https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/Zion5-015-Angels-Landing-Zion-National-Park.-copy.-copy.jpg?fit=900%2C600&ssl=1″ src=”https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/Zion5-015-Angels-Landing-Zion-National-Park.-copy.-copy.jpg?resize=900%2C600&ssl=1″ alt=”A teenage boy hiking Angels Landing, Zion National Park.” class=”wp-image-35512″ srcset=”https://i0.wp
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The View From Mount St. Helens, One of America’s Best Hikes

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By Michael Lanza

Four decades after it last erupted, Washington’s Mount St. Helens has become one of the most sought-after summits in the country—for good reason. Hikers on the standard Monitor Ridge route, on the mountain’s south side, emerge soon from the shady, cool, temperate rainforest onto a stark, gray and black moonscape of volcanic rocks, pumice, and ash, with little vegetation and sweeping views of the Cascade Mountains, including several other snow-covered volcanoes. The views could steal the breath from God.

Tet19 047 Me on Teton Crest Trail copy cropped 35 jpg
Hi, I’m Michael Lanza, creator of The Big Outside. Click here to sign up for my FREE email newsletter. Join The Big Outside to get full access to all of my blog’s stories. Click here for my e-books to classic backpacking trips. Click here to learn how I can help you plan your next trip.

From atop crumbling cliffs at the crater rim, hikers look out over the vast hole—2,000 feet deep and nearly two miles across—created by the 1980 eruption that decapitated St. Helens. Ice-capped volcanoes dominate three horizons: Rainier, Adams, Hood, and Jefferson. Scroll down to the photo gallery below from my family’s three-generation hike up St. Helens, and you’ll see why I consider it one of “The 10 Best Family Outdoor Adventure Trips.”

A permit is required for every climber above 4,800 feet on Mount St. Helens. It costs $15/person for the permit plus $6 for every permit transaction. For the quota season of April 1 through Oct 31, there are daily limits on the total number of climbers permitted on the mountain.

For each month during the quota season, permits go on sale at recreation.gov at 7 a.m. Pacific Time on the first day of the preceding month; for example, permits for hiking the mountain in July go on sale on June 1. Permits sell out very quickly. See fs.usda.gov/detail/giffordpinchot/passes-permits/recreation/?cid=fseprd528670 for information.

Read my story “Three Generations, One Big Volcano: Pushing Limits on Mount St. Helens,” about my family’s three-generation hike of Mount St. Helens, with more photos, a video, and tips on how to pull it off yourself.

I can help you plan the best backpacking, hiking, or family adventure of your life.
Click here now to learn more.

Mount Hood from Monitor Ridge.
” data-medium-file=”https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Hel6-008-Mt.-Hood-from-Monitor-Ridge-Mt.-St.-Helens-WA.jpg?fit=300%2C165&ssl=1″ data-large-file=”https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Hel6-008-Mt.-Hood-from-Monitor-Ridge-Mt.-St.-Helens-WA.jpg?fit=640%2C351&ssl=1″ data-attachment-id=”17219″ data-permalink=”https://thebigoutside.com/hel6-008-mt-hood-from-monitor-ridge-mt-st-helens-wa-2/” data-orig-file=”https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Hel6-008-Mt.-Hood-from-Monitor-Ridge-Mt.-St.-Helens-WA.jpg?fit=640%2C351&ssl=1″ data-orig-size=”640,351″ data-comments-opened=”1″ data-image-meta=”{“aperture”:”5.6″,”credit”:”Michael Lanza”,”camera”:”NIKON D90″,”caption”:””,”created_timestamp”:”1374488122″,”copyright”:”\u00a9 Michael Lanza\/The Big Outside”,”focal_length”:”200″,”iso”:”200″,”shutter_speed”:”0.0005″,”title”:””,”orientation”:”0″}” data-image-title=”” data-image-description=”” data-image-caption=”Mount Hood from Monitor Ridge.
” data-medium-file=”https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Hel6-008-Mt.-Hood-from-Monitor-Ridge-Mt.-St.-Helens-WA.jpg?fit=300%2C165&ssl=1″ data-large-file=”https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Hel6-008-Mt.-Hood-from-Monitor-Ridge-Mt.-St.-Helens-WA.jpg?fit=640%2C351&ssl=1″ srcset=”https://i1.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Hel6-008-Mt.-Hood-from-Monitor-Ridge-Mt.-St.-Helens-WA.jpg?strip=info&w=600&ssl=1 600w,https://i1.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Hel6-008-Mt.-Hood-from-Monitor-Ridge-Mt.-St.-Helens-WA.jpg
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