Black hole emits a jet at near light speed – tens of times bigger than the Milky Way

Astronomes have snapped a picture of a peculiar jet of material blasting from the supermassive black hole at the center of a distant galaxy.

These jets are pretty much the biggest things we know of in the Universe, some of them being over 100 times bigger than the Milky way. It really looks similar to the afterburn of a fighter jet – except the fighter is a black hole, and this afterburn moves at almost light speed. The picture was photographed using the CSIRO Australia Telescope Compact Array radio telescope in New South Wales, but their origins are still unclear.

“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,” says Dr Leith Godfrey from the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research.

It is believed they stop stars forming in their parent galaxy, limiting how big the galaxies can grow, practically affecting how the Universe looks today. This particular case especially shows us just how little we know about these fantastically large phenomena.

“This new image of the jet shows detail we’ve never seen before and the pattern we revealed provides a clue to how jets like this one work,” says Dr Jim Lovell, a co-author from the University of Tasmania. “This particular jet emits a lot of x-rays, which is hard to explain with our current models. 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.”

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