Magnetic Fields Wildly Reshape Jets From the Cores of Galaxies

May 7, 2021 | Active Galaxies, Daily Space, Galaxies

IMAGE: The bent jet structures emitted from MRC 0600-399 as observed by the MeerKAT radio telescope (left) are well reproduced by the simulation conducted on ATERUI II (right). The nearby galaxy B visible in the left part of the MeerKAT image is not affecting the jet and has been excluded in the simulation. CREDIT: Chibueze, Sakemi, Ohmura et al. (MeerKAT image); Takumi Ohmura, Mami Machida, Hirotaka Nakayama, 4D2U Project, NAOJ (ATERUI II image)

One thing that always gets me about astronomy is that, with the proper technology, it is easier to observe planets orbiting other stars than to understand the effects of dust and magnetic fields on how we see and what we see beyond our galaxy. To be fair, it could just be that we already have the right telescopes to see alien planets, but we’re only beginning to develop the tools to effectively study things like magnetic fields. 

This possibility is hinted at by new work led by James Chibueze that uses the MeerKAT radio telescope to look at a bright galaxy named MRC 0600-399 that is 600 million light-years away in the merging galaxy cluster Abell 3376. This system has an active black hole in its core, and as material streams toward that black hole, it generates powerful magnetic fields that shoot particles out in jets like railguns. Radio telescopes, like the relatively new MeerKAT observatory in South Africa, can see these jets, and in new observations, they reveal the jet mashing into the boundary between this galaxy’s subcluster and the greater galaxy cluster beyond. 

Simulations by co-author Haruja Sakemi reveal that what they are seeing is in good agreement with models of interacting magnetic fields at the boundary of the subcluster and cluster. This arching magnetic field bends the jets, creating dramatic scythe-shaped structures. MeerKAT is a precursor system to the planned Square Kilometre Array (SKA), and with that future tool, maybe understanding magnetic fields will get a bit easier.

More Information

NAOJ press release

Jets from MRC 0600-399 bent by magnetic fields in the cluster Abell 3376,” James O. Chibueze et al., 2021 May 5, Nature


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