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Supermassive Shock Diamonds: 2-Million-Light-Year Extragalactic Afterburner

By Belinda McCallum
Epoch Times Staff
Created: October 23, 2012 Last Updated: October 23, 2012
Related articles: Science » Space & Astronomy
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The jet known as ‘PKS 0637-752’ as seen by the Australia Telescope Compact Array (ATCA) clearly showing the shock diamond-like shapes in the 2-million-light-year-long structure. (Leith Godfrey/ICRAR, Jim Lovell/UTas.)

The jet known as ‘PKS 0637-752’ as seen by the Australia Telescope Compact Array (ATCA) clearly showing the shock diamond-like shapes in the 2-million-light-year-long structure. (Leith Godfrey/ICRAR, Jim Lovell/UTas.)

One of the largest objects in the universe has a similar appearance to the afterburner flow of a fighter jet, according to a new international study.

A jet of matter, extending more than 2 million light-years from the supermassive black hole at the heart of a remote galaxy, has a pattern of regularly spaced, bright, diamond-shaped areas that looks like the ‘shock diamonds’ seen in the afterburner exhaust of a jet engine.

At around 100 times bigger than the Milky Way, these jets arise when matter falls into supermassive black holes.

Scientists still do not know how these jets are produced or what they are composed of. Learning more about them will help us to understand how galaxies develop.

“If the brighter patches are caused by the same process in astronomical jets as they are in earthly jet engines, then the distance between them can give us important information about the power of the jet and the density of the surrounding space,” explained study co-author Leith Godfrey at Curtin University, Australia, in a press release.

“They are extremely powerful and are believed to stop stars forming in their parent galaxy, limiting how big the galaxies can grow and effecting how the Universe looks today.”

The new image of the jet was taken with the Australia Telescope Compact Array (ATCA) radio telescope, revealing a pattern that could help explain how it works.

“This particular jet emits a lot of X-rays, which is hard to explain with our current models,” said study co-author Jim Lovell at the University of Tasmania in the release.

“Our new find is a step forward in understanding how these giant objects emit so much X-ray radiation, and indirectly, will help us understand how the jet came to be.”

The study was published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters on Oct. 20.

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