VLT Images Intergalactic Shock
The Universe is a violent place - as astronomers use increasingly sensitive means and methods to study the diverse processes out there, they become aware of the extraordinary forces acting in the space that surrounds us.
With larger telescopes and ever-more sophisticated instruments, new information is gained about remote celestial objects and their behaviour. Among the most intriguing ones are the radio galaxies which emit prodiguous amounts of energy, in the form of fast-moving particles and intense electromagnetic radiation.
One of these is known as 3C 445; it is located near the celestial equator within the zodiacal constellation Aquarius (The Waterman), at a distance of about 1 billion light-years. It most probably harbours a black hole at its centre, more massive than the one at the centre of our own galaxy, the Milky Way (ESO PR 19/02). This galaxy was first observed from Cambridge (United Kingdom) in the 1950s and was listed as radio source no. 445 in the Third Cambridge Catalogue (1959), hence the name.
Later observations revealed a strong outflow from this galaxys active centre, visible on radio maps as two opposite plasma jets with strong synchrotron radiation () originating from rapidly moving electrons in the associated magnetic field (image "a" in PR Photo 26/02).
Now, a trio of European astronomers  have used two advanced instruments, ISAAC and FORS1 on the 8.2-m VLT ANTU telescope at the ESO Paranal Observatory (Chile) to obtain near-infrared images of these jets (images "b" and "c" in PR Photo 26/02).
As can be clearly seen on the radio picture of 3C 445 obtained with the NRAO Very Large Array (VLA) radio facility ("a"), the plasma jets of fast particles emanating from the galaxy ram into the surrounding intergalactic medium (mostly primordial hydrogen), thereby producing two "shocks", both at a distance of approximately 1.5 million light-years from the central galaxy and with particularly strong synchrotron emission. With a total length of more than 3 million light-years, or no less than one-and-a-half times the distance from the Milky Way to the Andromeda galaxy, this structure is indeed gigantic.
The region where the jets collide with the intergalactic medium are known as "hot spots". Superposing the intensity contours of the radio emission from the southern "hot spot" on a near-infrared J-band (wavelength 1.25 micron) VLT ISAAC image ("b") shows three distinct emitting areas; they are even better visible on the I-band (0.9 micron) FORS1 image ("c"). This emission is obviously associated with the shock front visible on the radio image.
This is one of the first times it has been possible to obtain an optical/near-IR image of synchrotron emission from such an intergalactic shock and, thanks to the sensitivity and image sharpness of the VLT, the most detailed view of its kind so far.
The central area (with the strongest emission) is where the plasma jet from the galaxy centre hits the intergalactic medium. The light from the two other "knots", some 10 - 15,000 light-years away from the central "hot spot", is also interpreted as synchrotron emission. However, in view of the large distance, the astronomers are convinced that it must be caused by electrons accelerated in secondary processes at those sites.
The new images thus confirm that electrons are being continuously accelerated in these "knots" - hence called "cosmic accelerators" - far from the galaxy and the main jets, and in nearly empty space. The exact physical circumstances of this effect are not well known and will be the subject of further investigations.
The present VLT-images of the "hot spots" near 3C 445 may not have the same public appeal as some of those beautiful images that have been produced by the same instruments during the past years. But they are not less valuable - their unusual importance is of a different kind, as they now herald the advent of fundamentally new insights into the mysteries of this class of remote and active cosmic objects.
Richard West | alfa
New type of smart windows use liquid to switch from clear to reflective
14.12.2017 | The Optical Society
New ultra-thin diamond membrane is a radiobiologist's best friend
14.12.2017 | American Institute of Physics
MPQ scientists achieve long storage times for photonic quantum bits which break the lower bound for direct teleportation in a global quantum network.
Concerning the development of quantum memories for the realization of global quantum networks, scientists of the Quantum Dynamics Division led by Professor...
Researchers have developed a water cloaking concept based on electromagnetic forces that could eliminate an object's wake, greatly reducing its drag while...
Tiny pores at a cell's entryway act as miniature bouncers, letting in some electrically charged atoms--ions--but blocking others. Operating as exquisitely sensitive filters, these "ion channels" play a critical role in biological functions such as muscle contraction and the firing of brain cells.
To rapidly transport the right ions through the cell membrane, the tiny channels rely on a complex interplay between the ions and surrounding molecules,...
The miniaturization of the current technology of storage media is hindered by fundamental limits of quantum mechanics. A new approach consists in using so-called spin-crossover molecules as the smallest possible storage unit. Similar to normal hard drives, these special molecules can save information via their magnetic state. A research team from Kiel University has now managed to successfully place a new class of spin-crossover molecules onto a surface and to improve the molecule’s storage capacity. The storage density of conventional hard drives could therefore theoretically be increased by more than one hundred fold. The study has been published in the scientific journal Nano Letters.
Over the past few years, the building blocks of storage media have gotten ever smaller. But further miniaturization of the current technology is hindered by...
With innovative experiments, researchers at the Helmholtz-Zentrums Geesthacht and the Technical University Hamburg unravel why tiny metallic structures are extremely strong
Light-weight and simultaneously strong – porous metallic nanomaterials promise interesting applications as, for instance, for future aeroplanes with enhanced...
11.12.2017 | Event News
08.12.2017 | Event News
07.12.2017 | Event News
14.12.2017 | Health and Medicine
14.12.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
14.12.2017 | Life Sciences