A team of astronomers is announcing today that they have discovered a giant Milky Way-sized tunnel filled with high energy particles in a distant galaxy cluster. These new findings are of special interest to astronomers as they may provide the missing evolutionary link necessary to understand the cycle of birth and death, as well as the environmental impact, of radio jets which result from ravenous supermassive black holes within giant galaxies. The report is being presented to the American Astronomical Society meeting in Washington, DC, by Dr. Tracy Clarke of Interferometrics, Inc. in Herndon, VA, and the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) in Washington, DC; along with collaborators Dr. Craig Sarazin of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, VA; Dr. Elizabeth Blanton of Boston University in Boston, MA; Dr. Namir Kassim, also of NRL; and Dr. Doris Neumann of CEA in Saclay, France.
Using the Chandra X-ray Observatory to study the multi-million degree gas in the galaxy cluster Abell 2597, the scientists discovered an unusual X-ray tunnel large enough to fit the entire Milky Way galaxy inside. The cluster, located at a distance of roughly one billion light years, contains a tunnel in the hot gas, which measures nearly 110 thousand light years by 36 thousand light years in size. The tunnel, which appears to originate near the core of the central giant galaxy in the cluster, may be more than 200 million years old.
A constant battle is being waged in the central regions of clusters of galaxies. The hot gas invades the core of the cluster and feeds the supermassive black hole that is lurking there. As the black hole eats more and more, it becomes active and nearby material is funneled into powerful jets of highly energetic particles (so-called radio jets) outward into the hot gas. These relativistic jets, containing particles moving at close to the speed of light, carve out bubbles while they expand, pushing aside the hot gas. Like a poorly planned invasion, these jets cut off the fuel supply to the central black hole, leading to a temporary starvation. Without fuel to maintain the attack, the radio jets cease and the hot gas once again is able to invade the central region of the cluster and the battle begins again.
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