A galaxy far, far away looks like a tie fighter, astronomers discover unexpectedly


Space has never been a one-size-fits-all affair. Our universe is awash with gas and dust, which make faces, jellyfish, butterflies, giant pillar shapes that look like hands, and more.

And now, for those Star Wars fans, there’s the TXS 0128 + 554 – a galaxy that looks like a tie fighter.

We’ve known about the TXS 0128 + 554 for a few years, but NASA scientists have recently taken a deep dive to find out how it happened, and in this way its radio waves would have seemed familiar. is.

“We zoom in a million times around the galaxy using VLBA’s radio antennas and see its shape over time,” said Purdue University astronomer Matthew Lister.

“The first time I saw the results, I immediately thought it looked like Darth Vader’s TIE fighter spacecraft Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope. This was a surprising surprise, but its presence at different radio frequencies helped us learn more about how active galaxies can change dramatically over time scales of the decade. ”

TXS 0128 + 554 is about 500 million light years away in the constellation Cassiopeia. It is an active galactic nucleus (AGN), which means that it is a galaxy that theoretically hosts a great large supermassive black hole in the middle.

In this case the black hole – which is about one billion times the mass of the Sun – is hidden behind dust and gas in the ‘cockpit’ of TIA Fighter.

The dust and gas surrounding the black hole is heated due to friction and gravity, and in the process produces a broad spectrum of energy – radio, X-rays, and gamma rays are all released.

The black hole itself, however, is helping to produce the ‘wings’ of the ship. About one in ten black holes produce jets – giant beams made of high-energy particles – from both ends that travel directly to those two wings (or lobes, to be a bit more scientific) closer to the speed of light. We do.

When the jets collide with the gas at the edges of the galaxy, those high-energy particles begin to slow down, and eventually the energy begins to flow back toward the black hole. These vibrating particles spiral around magnetic fields due to black holes, and create brighter emissions than we can see at radio frequencies.

Radio sequence 320px 1TXS 0128 + 554 at six radio wavelengths. (NRAO / NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center)

Interestingly enough, however, there is a large difference in some frequencies between the cockpit (aka core) and the lobes. Researchers believe the galaxy’s jets started about 90 years ago, took off about 40 years ago, and then just resumed in the last decade, creating a gap in the middle on either side of the core.

The team wrote in their new paper, “The lack of compact, inverted spectrum hotspots and an emission gap between the luminous inner jet and the outer radio lobe structure indicate that the jets have had episodic activity, and were relaunched a decade ago. “

We do not yet know what caused the jet to turn on and off, but the more AGN we are able to find and test, the greater chance we will have to find out.

The research has been published in The Astrophysical Journal.

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