Astronomers Capture Most Detailed View of Plasma Jet Shooting from Supermassive Black Hole
In a groundbreaking discovery, astronomers have utilized a network of radio telescopes on Earth and in space to capture the most detailed view ever of a plasma jet shooting from a supermassive black hole at the heart of a distant galaxy. The jet, which originates from a blazar known as 3C 279, travels at nearly the speed of light. The patterns observed near its source challenge the long-standing theory that has been used for four decades to explain how these jets form and evolve over time.
The Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany played a crucial role in these observations by combining data from multiple telescopes to create a virtual telescope with an effective diameter of approximately 100,000 kilometers. The findings of this study were recently published in the prestigious scientific journal, Nature Astronomy.
Blazars, a subclass of active galactic nuclei, are considered the brightest and most powerful sources of electromagnetic radiation in the universe. Around 10% of blazars produce relativistic plasma jets. By imaging the innermost region of the jet in 3C 279, researchers were able to detect remarkably regular helical filaments that may necessitate a revision of existing theoretical models used to explain the formation of these jets in active galaxies.
The presence of helical magnetic fields observed within the jet challenges previous assumptions regarding their structure and behavior. This discovery emphasizes the need for new theoretical models capable of explaining the formation and evolution of such helical filaments near the origin of the jet.
The successful findings were made possible through the RadioAstron mission, which employed a technique known as Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI) to create a virtual telescope with an effective diameter equivalent to the maximum separation between the participating antennas. The collaboration of observatories and scientists from twelve countries was instrumental in achieving these remarkable results.
The RadioAstron mission, active between July 2011 and May 2019, consisted of an orbiting radio telescope and a collection of ground-based telescopes. By combining their signals, researchers obtained a maximum angular resolution equivalent to a radio telescope with a diameter of 350,000 km.
Led by the Astro Space Center of the Lebedev Physical Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Lavochkin Scientific and Production Association, the mission involved partner organizations in Russia and other countries. Continued analysis of the astronomical data obtained from RadioAstron is expected to provide further insights into the nature of cosmic phenomena.
The study of the inner jet in 3C 279 emphasizes the ongoing efforts to comprehend the role of magnetic fields in forming relativistic outflows from active galactic nuclei. However, to continuously image distant cosmic objects with the highest angular resolutions, more advanced radio astronomical instruments and techniques are necessary.
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