Blasting over two million lights years from the centre of a distant galaxy is a supersonic jet of material that looks strikingly similar to the afterburner flow of a fighter jet, except in this case the jet engine is a supermassive black hole and the jet material is moving at nearly the speed of light. Research published over the weekend in the Astrophysical Journal Letters shows the galaxy-scale jet to have bright and dark regions, similar to the phenomenon in an afterburner exhaust called ‘shock diamonds.’
A new image of the previously studied jet reveals regularly spaced areas that are brighter than the rest of the jet in a pattern that echoes the way the afterburner from a jet engine has brighter diamond-shaped areas in its general glow. Dr Godfrey said the jets are produced when material falls onto a supermassive black hole at the centre of a galaxy, but many details beyond that remain unknown.
“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,” he said. ”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.”
Dr Godfrey said that jets like the one he studied are the largest objects in the Universe, about 100 times larger than the Milky Way. Edited from Astronomers study 2-million-light-year ‘extragalactic afterburner’.