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Supermassive black hole appears to emit radiation like an ‘extragalactic afterburner’

Space continues to be a source of extraordinary discoveries and the latest finding by a group of astronomers is no exception. Astronomers discovered an “extragalactic afterburner” trailing over two million light years from the center of a far off galaxy, according to a statement from the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research. The astronomers contend that the jet of materials looks similar to the afterburner flow of a fighter jet.

The “extragalactic afterburner” has bright and dark regions, just like the phenomenon in afterburner exhaust called shock diamonds. According to io9, shock diamonds “look like strobe lights” coming out of a jet and are the result of a clash between the gas in the engine and the air in the sky.

The astronomers note that a closer examination of the “extragalactic afterburner” shows regularly spaced areas that are brighter than the rest of the jet in a pattern that is similar to the way that the afterburner from a jet engine has brighter areas in its glow.

“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,” said Dr Leith Godfrey, from the Curtin University group at The International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research, in a statement.

While astronomers aren’t exactly sure about all the science behind the “extragalactic afterburner,” they say that they’re formed when material falls onto a supermassive black hole at the center of a galaxy.

“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,” Mr. Godfrey 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.”

The “extragalactic afterburner” and others likes them are 100 times larger than the Milky Way, according to astronomers.

“If we want to understand how galaxies form and grow, we need to understand these jets. They are extremely powerful and are believed to stop stars forming in their parent galaxy, limiting how big the galaxies can grow and effecting how the Universe looks today,” Mr. Godfrey posited.

Scientists believe that the new image of the “extragalactic afterburner” will help them learn more about the science behind these jets.

“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,” said co-author Dr Jim Lovell of the University of Tasmania in a statement. “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.”

The image was take using the CSIRO Australia Telescope Compact Array radio telescope in New South Wales.

The findings were recently published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.