Huge flare-ups in a 44 million light years distant galaxy

Astronomers have seen a huge outburst in a galaxy giving them the chance to study the dramatic change in the black hole at the galaxy’s center. This was a opportunity of an attractive study as the scientists were already studying the galaxies.

“The discovery was entirely serendipitous. Our observations were spread over a few years, and when we looked at them, we found that one galaxy had changed over that time from being placid and quiescent, to undergoing a hugely energetic outburst at the end,” Robert Minchin, of Arecibo Observatory, who presented the research, said in a statement.

Bright flare-ups in the galaxy NGC 660.(Credit: Minchin et al., NRAO/AUI/NSF (HSA); Travis Rector, Gemini Observatory, AURA (optical))

Researchers were using National Science Foundation’s (NSF) 305-meter William E. Gordon Telescope at Arecibo, when they found the huge outburst in the spiral galaxy, NGC 660 that is located 44 million light-years distant in the constellation Pisces. It was such a huge outburst that it is ten times brighter than the largest supernova or exploding star found.

The researchers continued their study on the outburst with the help of international network of telescopes to determine the cause. The network is High Sensitivity Array (HSA), composed of the NSF’s Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA), a continent-wide arrangement of ten radio telescopes ranging from Hawaii to the Virgin islands; the Arecibo Telescope; the NSF’s 100-meter Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia; and the 100-meter Effelsberg Radio Telescope of the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Germany.

“High-resolution imaging is the key to understanding what’s going on,” said Emmanuel Momjian, of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO). “We needed to know if the outburst came from a supernova in this galaxy or from the galaxy’s core. We could only do that by harnessing the high-resolution imaging power we get by joining widely-separated radio telescopes together.”

In the resulting images, researchers found the five sites of bright radio emission i.e. one in the center and the two on the either side as you can see in the image above.

“The most likely explanation is that there are jets coming from the core, but they are precessing, or wobbling, and the hot spots we see are where the jets slammed into material near the galaxy’s nucleus,” said Chris Salter, of Areceibo Observatory. “To confirm this, we will continue to observe the galaxy with the HSA over the next few years,” he added.

The researchers have presented the findings at the American Astronomical Society’s meeting in Long Beach, California.

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