MAY 24, 2021 9:48 AM PDT

Plasma jets observed interacting with magnetic fields in far-off galaxy cluster

New observations from radio telescopes and supercomputer simulations show plasma jets interacting with magnetic fields in a massive galaxy cluster far far away - no really, this cluster is nearly 600 million light-years away! The images can shed light on the formation of galaxy clusters, which, as the name might suggest, are thousands of galaxies held together by gravity, as well as the existence of magnetic fields within these clusters. The findings are published in the journal Nature

"It is generally difficult to directly examine the structure of intracluster magnetic fields," says Nagoya University astrophysicist Tsutomu Takeuchi, who was involved in the research. "Our results clearly demonstrate how long-wavelength radio observations can help explore this interaction." 

Takeuchi and fellow scientists used the MeerKAT radio telescope in the Northern Cape of South Africa to observe a massive cluster galaxy called Abell 3376. Their investigations showed plasma jets coming from a supermassive black hole in the center of the cluster in galaxy MRC 0600-399. The telescope showed the plasma jets extending as far as 326,156 light-years away. The specific form and location of the plasma jets caught the scientists’ interest.

"This told us that the plasma jets from MRC 0600-399 were interacting with something in the heated gas, called the intracluster medium, that exists between the galaxies within Abell 3376," explains Takeuchi. "This is the first discovery of an interaction between cluster galaxy plasma jets and intracluster magnetic fields."

The team also relied on simulations from the  ATERUI II supercomputer, located at the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, to figure out what was happening with the plasma jets. They conducted 3D 'magnetohydrodynamic' simulations and saw how the jet streams emitted by MRC 0600-399's black hole interact with magnetic fields at the border of the galaxy subcluster. 

The scientists expect their findings to be compounded by future observations from the soon-to-be constructed radio telescope called the Square Kilometre Array (SKA). "New facilities like the SKA are expected to reveal the roles and origins of cosmic magnetism and even to help us understand how the universe evolved," says Takeuchi. "Our study is a good example of the power of radio observation, one of the last frontiers in astronomy."

Sources: Nature, Eureka Alert

About the Author
  • Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
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