Discovered by NASA’s Chandra X-ray observatory, it’s powered by a supermassive black hole.
2019 marks 20 years of NASA’s Chandra, humanity’s most powerful X-ray observatory.
It’s viewed everything from pulsars to colliding gas to galaxy clusters and supermassive black holes.
In 2015, it set its sights on a galaxy some 485 million light-years away: the radio-loud behemoth known as Pictor A.
When Chandra took a look at it with its X-ray eyes, it saw something unprecendented and spectacular: a jet 300,000 light-years long.
Like all known active galaxies, Pictor A is powered by a supermassive black hole many millions to billions of times our Sun’s mass.
Black holes can accelerate and eject infalling matter, leading to intense emissions.
The light released spans the spectrum from high-energy X-rays to low-energy radio waves.
The radio lobes of gas provide a medium for high-energy X-rays to interact with.
When these interactions cause electrons to exceed the speed of sound in the gaseous medium, it creates intense shock waves.
The “hot spot” illustrated on the above NASA image is the definitive evidence of the jet-like nature of these X-rays and accelerated electrons.
Alternative explanations involving boosted CMB photons have been ruled out.
Pictor A possesses the largest X-ray jet in the known Universe.
Mostly Mute Monday tells an astronomical story in images, visuals, and no more than 200 words. Talk less; smile more.Ethan Siegel is the author of Beyond the Galaxy and Treknology. You can pre-order his third book, currently in development: the Encyclopaedia Cosmologica.