A team of NASA-funded researchers has captured, with the help of radio telescopes, the most detailed image of particle jets erupting from a supermassive black hole in a nearby galaxy.
The telescopes are located throughout the Northern Hemisphere and the images produced will help astronomers determine how the jet structures are formed.
These jets arise as infalling matter approaches the black hole, but we don't yet know the details of how they form and maintain themselves, stated Cornelia Mueller, the study's lead author and a doctoral student at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg in Germany.
Mueller and her team targeted Centaurus A (Cen A), a nearby galaxy with a supermassive black hole weighing 55 million times the sun's mass. Located 12 million light-years away in the constellation Centaurus, it is one of the first celestial radio sources identified with a galaxy.
With the help of an intercontinental array of nine radio telescopes, researchers for the TANAMI (Tracking Active Galactic Nuclei with Austral Milliarcsecond Interferometry) project were able to effectively zoom into the galaxy's innermost realm.
The enormous energy output of galaxies like Cen A comes from gas falling toward a black hole weighing millions of times the sun's mass. Through processes not fully understood, some of this infalling matter is ejected in opposing jets at a substantial fraction of the speed of light.
The jets strongly interact with surrounding gas, at times possibly changing a galaxy's rate of star formation. They play an important but poorly understood role in the formation and evolution of galaxies.
Get a glimpse of the unique images below: