Radio phoenixes might be legendary but we know they are real. They suddenly appear, possibly covering a million light-years, sparkle in the radio part of the electromagnetic spectrum, and then disappear as if they never existed.
redit: Torrance Hodgson, ICRAR/Curtin University.
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The Universe is full of strange specters. They appear, fascinate us and then disappear in the cold darkness of the Universe. One of these specters was recently caught by a team of radioastronomers led by Torrance Hodgson from the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) in Australia as they tracked down a radio phoenix.
This awesome specter in the shape of a giant jellyfish was caught using the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) in the Abell 2877 star cluster that can be found in the Southern sky at a distance of roughly 300,000,000 light-years away from us. This specter is truly worth the price of admission. Even though it can be visible only in a narrow part of the radio waves it’s over 1,000,000 light-years across. The “disk” of this ultimate jellyfish is made from a mass of cosmic plasma and its tentacles are made from hot gas.
This alone would be quite scary. But the even scarier and fascinating was how it disappeared. Just as if this jellyfish dissolved. According to Hodgon, this was certainly a record. The jellyfish glowed at the 200 MHz frequency and then vanished. We have never seen any other object of this type disappear so quickly.
Hodgson and his colleagues came to the conclusion we have found a radio phoenix. These incredible things are actually quite similar to their mythological namesakes. As you know, when a phoenix dies it burns into a puddle of ash only to be reborn in flames. A radio phoenix is a monumental structure in space that has been expanding for millions of years and slowly going dim as it’s losing energy. But sometimes, something that charges it such as shock waves from a very energetic event hit it. And a radio phoenix is reborn.
The material in this radio phoenix was probably created about 2 billion years ago. Several supermassive black holes vomited out gigantic jets of plasma. Since then these jets of slowly going dim until now when some event – we aren’t sure what kind of event – lighted it back up.
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