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Radio Galaxy’s Jet Shifts 90 Degrees, Points Directly at Earth

A visualization created by an artist depicting an active galactic nucleus (AGN) or quasar emitting a jet of emissions. Image Credit: Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech (CC BY 4.0).

A team of astronomers has made an incredible discovery - a jet in the radio galaxy PBC J2333.9-2343 has shifted its direction by a stunning 90 degrees, causing a dramatic reorientation of the galaxy. This reclassification marks the first time that a galaxy has transitioned from a quasar to a blazar, with the jet now pointed directly at Earth. The finding is groundbreaking and could lead to new insights about the behavior of radio galaxies.

In a groundbreaking discovery, astronomers have observed a dramatic reorientation of a jet in the bright radio galaxy PBC J2333.9-2343, prompting them to reclassify it. This is the first instance of a galaxy transitioning from a quasar to a blazar due to its jet shifting by as much as 90 degrees to point directly at Earth.

PBC J2333.9-2343, situated 656.8 million light-years away, was initially classified as a radio galaxy with an active galactic nucleus (AGN) at its center. AGNs, or quasars, are supermassive black holes found in some galaxies that emit high levels of radiation while consuming material. In certain instances, they release jets of charged particles traveling near the speed of light. When such a jet is aimed toward Earth, it appears as a bright object known as a blazar.

Unusual properties

The galaxy displayed unusual properties, which led astronomers to examine it further using radio, optical, infrared, X-ray, ultraviolet, and gamma-ray telescopes. The comprehensive studies revealed a blazar at the galaxy’s center, necessitating reclassification. Additionally, the researchers observed two lobes of material, remnants of the old jets that the AGN no longer feeds. The study also shed light on the galaxy’s immense size, spanning approximately 4 million light-years in diameter, dwarfing the Milky Way, which measures only 100,000 light-years wide.

Direct line with Earth

Although previous observations have documented AGNs redirecting their jets, PBC J2333.9-2343 is the first instance where a jet has moved into a direct line with Earth, resulting in a change in the object’s classification. The cause of the shift remains a mystery. Still, astronomers speculate possibilities such as a merger with another galaxy, a collision with a large object, or the black hole reactivating after a dormant period. The groundbreaking research was published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, providing valuable insight into the behavior of galaxies and their supermassive black holes.

What are cosmic jets?

Cosmic jets are highly collimated, high-speed outflows of ionized matter from the central regions of galaxies. These jets are often associated with active galactic nuclei (AGN), which are regions around supermassive black holes where large amounts of gas are being accreted and heated to high temperatures. Cosmic jets are some of the most powerful phenomena in the universe, with some extending for hundreds of thousands of light-years. They can emit radiation across the electromagnetic spectrum, including radio waves, X-rays, and gamma rays. Studying cosmic jets can help astronomers understand the processes that drive the evolution of galaxies and the formation of large-scale structures in the universe.

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