Astronomers Have Discovered One Of The Biggest Black Hole Jets In The Sky

Cosmically speaking. If our galaxy were a house, NGC2663 would be a suburb or two away. Image Credit: Jurik Peter/ 

Astronomers at Western Sydney University have discovered one of the Greatest black hole jets in the sky. 

Spanning more than a million light years from end to end, the jet shoots away from a black hole with huge energy, and at almost the speed of light. But in the enormous expanses of space between galaxies, it doesn’t always get its own way. 

At about 93 million light-years away, the galaxy NGC2663 is in our neighborhood, cosmically speaking. If our galaxy were a house, NGC2663 would be a suburbia or two away. 

Looking at its starlight with an ordinary telescope, we see the well-known oval shape of a “typical” elliptical galaxy, with about ten times as many stars as our own Milky Way. 

Typical, that is, until we noticed NGC2663 with CSIRO’s Australian Square Kilometer Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) in Western Australia – a network of 36 linked radio dishes creating a single super-telescope. 

The radio waves let out a jet of matter, shot out of the galaxy by a central black hole. This high-powered stream of material is about 50 times bigger than the galaxy: if our eyes could see it in the night sky, it would be larger than the Moon. 

While astronomers have discovered such jets before, the immense size (more than a million light years across) and comparative closeness of NGC2663 make these some of the biggest known jets in the sky. 

Black hole jets from NGC2663 compared to a jet engine. Top image: observations from the ASKAP radio telescope. Bottom: a methane rocket successfully being tested in the Mojave Desert. Note the patterns of compression (Mike Massee/XCOR, used with permission, Author provided 

Biggest One Yet  

As well as in jet engines, shock diamonds have been spotted in smaller, galaxy-sized jets. We’ve seen jets slam into thick clouds of gas, lighting them up as they bore through. But jets being constricted from the sides is a more subtle effect, making it harder to detect. 

However, until NGC2663, we’ve not seen this effect on such huge scales. 

This tells us there is enough matter in the intergalactic space around NGC2663 to press against the sides of the jet. In turn, the jet heats up and pressurizes the matter. 


This is a feedback loop: intergalactic matter feeds into a galaxy, galaxy makes black hole, black hole actives jet, jet slows supply of intergalactic matter into galaxies. 


These jets affect how gas creates into galaxies as the universe evolves. It’s thrilling to see such a direct illustration of this interaction. 

The EMU survey, which is also responsible for discovering a new type of mysterious astronomical object called an “Odd Radio Circle”, is continuing to examining the sky. This sensational radio jet will soon be joined by many more discoveries. 

As we do, we’ll build up a better understanding of how black holes intimately shape the galaxies around them. 

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article. 

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