Cosmic 'afterburner' captured by telescope

Oct. 22, 2012 at 2:40 PM
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PERTH, Australia, Oct. 22 (UPI) -- A supersonic jet blasting from the center of a distant galaxy looks strikingly similar to a jet fighter's afterburner flow, Australian astronomers say.

The "jet engine" in this case is a supermassive black hole and the material is moving at nearly the speed of light as it blasts almost 2 million light years out of the galaxy, researchers with the International Center for Radio Astronomy Research in Perth reported.

The galaxy-scale jet has bright and dark regions, similar to the phenomenon in an afterburner exhaust called "shock diamonds," they said.

"One intriguing possibility is that the pattern we see in this cosmic jet is produced in the same way as the pattern in the exhaust from fighter jet engines," researcher Leith Godfrey said.

"Massive jets like this one have been studied for decades, since the beginning of radio astronomy, but we still don't understand exactly how they are produced or what they're made of."

Such jets are the largest objects in the Universe, about 100 times larger than the Milky Way, researchers said.

"If we want to understand how galaxies form and grow, we need to understand these jets," Godfrey said. "They are extremely powerful and are believed to stop stars forming in their parent galaxy, limiting how big the galaxies can grow and affecting how the universe looks today."

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