A Galaxy Maybe Not So Far Away

By Paige Francis

CBS News

A picture of the newly found Galaxy TXS 0128+554 that is shaped like a TIE Fighter from Star Wars

On August 25th, 2020, scientists discovered a new galaxy that makes a fictional galaxy seem a little more real. Located in the Cassiopeia constellation 500 light-years away, NASA made a new discovery. This discovery was a new galaxy shaped oddly like a TIE Fighter from the classic Star Wars films by George Lucas. 

 

Galaxy TXS 0128+554 is an active galaxy, meaning none of the stars are capable of producing the light emitted by the galaxy on their own. In the center of it, there is a massive black hole that has a mass about one billion times more than our sun. Scientists believe the excess light produced by the galaxy comes from the black hole which is blasting out jets of energy that span 35 light-years across. These blasts of energy are going across the galaxy at almost the speed of light which scientists believe is the cause for this excess light due to the production of gamma rays. About one-tenth of the active galaxies produce these jets of energy that make the “wings” of the TIE Fighter. These jets are produced “when gas and dust build and heat up due to gravitational and frictional forces.” These bursts of energy make up the distinctive features of a TIE fighter. Without them, this would just be another normal-looking galaxy.

 

Scientists have studied this galaxy for five years after a telescope picked up its gamma rays. NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope was the telescope to find the source of gamma rays. In order to confirm this finding, years of data and research had to be done because TXS 0128 is about 100,000 times less powerful than most of the other 3,000 active galaxies observed. Researchers also used the Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA) and NASA's Chandra X-ray observatory to get more information on this new galaxy. Matthew Lister, a professor of physics and astronomy at Purdue University said "After the Fermi announcement, we zoomed in a million times closer on the galaxy using the VLBA's radio antennas and charted its shape over time," in a news release. "The first time I saw the results, I immediately thought it looked like Darth Vader's TIE fighter spacecraft from 'Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope.” This interesting shape would actually help the researchers studying this galaxy.

 

Researchers were able to find out even more about this galaxy by looking at its core. Looking at the core with different radio frequencies showed how much an active galaxy will change over time. Depending on the radio frequency used to observe the galaxy, the shape changes. At 6.6 gigahertz (GHz), the TIE Fighter shape is visible. As you go down to 2.3 the galaxy possesses a blob shape and at 15.4 GHz there is a visible gap between the core and the jets. This gap is somewhat a mystery. It could be due to a “brief lull in the galaxy’s jets.” The jets appeared to start 90 years ago and continued emitting for 50 years. The jets then started up again about 10 years ago and scientists have no clue as to why. However, this galaxy reminds scientists of something important.

 

Elizabeth Hays is the Fermi Project scientist says "This galaxy reminds us of the importance of multiwavelength observations, looking at objects across a wide range of the electromagnetic spectrum. Fermi, the VLBA, and Chandra each add a layer to our growing picture of this object, revealing their own surprises." Not only is this galaxy an awesome find, it’s a great opportunity for scientists to learn more about other active galaxies they may come across. Hopefully, these scientists will discover more in our galaxy that has a connection to a galaxy far, far away.

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