In our second story of the day, we have a pretty picture from ALMA that includes MG J0414+0534, a galaxy 11 billion light years away. This young galaxy has a disturbed shape, and astronomers have realized that what they’re seeing is radio jets turning on in a young galaxy.
We’ve previously seen myriad galaxies with active jets of material spewing out of their galactic disk. These jets are driven by the magnetic fields of accretion disks – those disks of material that spiral around actively feeding black holes. In addition to seeing active disks, we’ve also caught the light echoes of jets that have recently shut down, leaving disconnected light continuing its journey through space. What we hadn’t seen are young jets, just turning on.
According to team member Satoki Matsushita, of the Academia Sinica Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics, “We are perhaps witnessing the very early phase of jet evolution in the galaxy. It could be as early as several tens of thousands of years after the launch of the jets.”
These new observations, published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters, were possible thanks to the magnifying powers of an intervening galaxy’s gravity. Gravity has the same ability to bend and seemingly magnify light that lenses have. Since space is mostly empty, it is rare that we find useful alignments of nearby massive galaxies and distant systems that are super scientifically interesting. In this case, we got lucky, and the gravitational lens in combination with the resolving power of ALMA was able to reveal details we would otherwise have never seen. We now have captured the birth and death of jets, and a myriad of examples of all the stages in between, and this will allow better future modeling of the life cycle feeding galaxies and their associated jets.