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Radio Observations of Compact Symmetric Objects Shed New Light on Black Hole Phenomenon

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Astronomers Spot Differences in Thickness of Milky Way Galaxy

Astronomers using the National Science Foundation’s Green Bank Telescope targeted the Smith Cloud for their observations, however, the Milky Way’s inner galaxy obscured their view. While these scientists didn’t find what they were originally looking for, they did observe something new about this part of our home galaxy. This inner part of the Milky Way appears to be half the size of the outer part!

Radio Observations of Compact Symmetric Objects Shed New Light on Black Hole Phenomenon

A single, massive star is devoured by a black hole and causes the black hole to shoot out an ultrafast, bipolar jet.

Credit: S. Dagnello, B. Saxton/NRAO/AUI/NSF

A groundbreaking investigation into Compact Symmetric Objects (CSOs), a peculiar class of galaxies, has revealed new insights into their spectacular but short-lived existence

Compact Symmetric Objects (CSOs) have long puzzled astronomers with their unique characteristics. These active galaxies harbor supermassive black holes that emit powerful jets traveling at near-light speeds in opposite directions. However, unlike their counterparts in other galaxies, these jets remain compact, not extending out to great distances as expected. For decades, scientists presumed that CSOs were youthful entities, with their jets destined to expand over time.

A Compact Symmetric Objects forms in space.

When a star is captured by the gravitational force of a black hole and shredded, or spaghettified, sometimes twin jets spiral outward. These jets can give birth to Compact Symmetrical Objects (CSOs), which scientists have confirmed are a unique class of active galaxies.

New findings, published in three papers in The Astrophysical Journal, challenge this notion. The Caltech-led team, spearheaded by Anthony (Tony) Readhead, Robinson Professor of Astronomy, Emeritus, discovered that CSOs have relatively short lifespans. Through an exhaustive review of literature and observations, the team identified over 3,000 CSO candidates, confirming 64 as authentic CSOs and recognizing 15 new candidates. These objects were previously observed by the U.S. National Science Foundation National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NSF NRAO)’s Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA), renowned for its unparalleled resolution.

The studies, funded by NSF, NASA, Caltech, and the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, mark a significant step forward in understanding the dynamic processes shaping our universe. Read the full Caltech release and view NRAO’s scientific visualization animation. 

About NRAO

The National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) is a facility of the U.S. National Science Foundation, operated under cooperative agreement by Associated Universities, Inc.

For media inquiries or further information, please contact: 

NRAO Media Contact

Corrina C. Jaramillo Feldman
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VLA, VLBA, ngVLA
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This news article was originally published on the NRAO website on March 26, 2024.

Recent News

Astronomers Spot Differences in Thickness of Milky Way Galaxy

Astronomers using the National Science Foundation’s Green Bank Telescope targeted the Smith Cloud for their observations, however, the Milky Way’s inner galaxy obscured their view. While these scientists didn’t find what they were originally looking for, they did observe something new about this part of our home galaxy. This inner part of the Milky Way appears to be half the size of the outer part!