Twin jets pinpoint active galaxy’s heart

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Artist’s concept of galaxy NGC 1052. The bottom one shows a central compact region – thought to be a supermassive black hole – and 2 jets. The top one is a close-up of an accretion disk, plus 2 regions of entangled magnetic fields forming the 2 powerful jets. Image via Anne-Kathrin Baczko/ Max Planck Institute.

NGC 1052 is an elliptical galaxy, located approximately 60 million light-years away in the direction of our constellation Cetus the Whale. It’s an active galaxy; that is, it has an especially luminous core, thought to contain an active supermassive black hole. On September 12, 2016, the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy reported on measurements of the magnetic field in the vicinity of NGC 1052’s core. An international team of astronomers, using a global ensemble of radio telescopes, observed a bright and compact feature – only two light days across – at the heart of this galaxy. The astronomers said the large magnetic field they observed provides enough magnetic energy to power not one but two strong relativistic jets emanating from the center of NGC 1052.

Astronomy PhD student Anne-Kathrin Baczko led the team, whose results were published September 13, 2016 in the peer-reviewed journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

These astronomers used very-long-baseline interferometry – employing a network of radio telescopes in Europe, the U.S., and East Asia – to study this galaxy. The technique has potential to locate compact jet cores at sizes close to a black hole’s event horizon, the boundary around a black hole within which nothing can be seen, and which nothing can escape. Meanwhile, black hole itself remains invisible.