Active galaxy jets resemble Star Wars TIE Fighter

This isn't a TIE Fighter, but an active galaxy 500 million lightyears away propelling out jets at nearly the speed of light.

Active galaxy TXS 0128. Image credit: Lister, et al.; Sophia Dagnello, NRAO/AUI/NSF

Astronomers have captured a view of an active galaxy propelling out jets of cosmic material that makes it look rather like a TIE fighter, as seen in the Star Wars films.

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Galaxy TXS 0128 is located 500 million lightyears away and is anchored by a central supermassive black hole that’s about 1 billion times the Sun’s mass.

Astronomers have been observing the galaxy using the Chandra X-ray Observatory and the Very Long Basline Array, the latter being used to produce this incredible image.

TXS 0128 is an active galaxy, which means that all the stars within that galaxy can’t account for the amount of light being emitted.

Astronomers theorise that this extra emission is a result of swirling gas and dust being heated up by gravitational and frictional forces around its central supermassive black hole.

About 10% of active galaxies produce powerful jets that blast out into space. These jets of high-energy particles travel at nearly the speed of light in opposite directions.

Often, the jets collide with intergalactic gas, which causes the particles to slow down, and the material begins to flow back towards the centre of the galaxy.

This motion produces the lobe effects seen here. The gap between the lobes and the bright core indicates that the jet activity began about 80 years ago, then stopped, then resumed about 10 years ago.

It might appear as though one lobe is markedly larger than the other, but this is mostly the effect of perspective.

The galaxy is so huge and is angled away from Earth such that light from the farther lobe takes dozens more lightyears to reach us than light from the closer one.

If the galaxy was so aligned that the jets and lobes were perpendicular to our viewpoint, we would see both lobes at the same stage of development.

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Observatory Very Long Baseline Array

Release date 25 August 2020

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Image credit Lister, et al.; Sophia Dagnello, NRAO/AUI/NSF