UP part of team that solves mystery of X-shaped radio galaxies with MeerKAT telescope

Posted on August 03, 2020

A team of astronomers from South Africa and the United States has used the MeerKAT telescope to solve a longstanding puzzle in ‘X’-shaped radio galaxies by observing a galaxy – called PKS 2014-55 – that is situated 800-million light years away from Earth. Previous studies of these unusual galaxies lacked the high-quality imaging provided by the MeerKAT telescope, which was inaugurated in 2018.

This study was carried out by a team from the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory, the (US) National Radio Astronomy Observatory, University of Pretoria (UP) and Rhodes University. The results have been published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

“This galaxy is one of many with similar X-shaped morphologies carefully chosen to be studied in a MeerKAT observation campaign which is aimed at solving the mystery of X-shaped radio galaxies,” explained Dr Kshitij Thorat, a postdoctoral fellow at UP and second author of the paper. “While other telescopes around the world hinted at this object's unusual morphology, it took the crystal-clear image quality of MeerKAT to reveal the underlying physical causes. As a bonus, we have produced one of the most beautiful radio images I have ever seen.” 

The image shows two powerful jets of radio waves, indicated in blue, each extending 2.5 million light years (comparable to the distance between the Milky Way and the Andromeda galaxy, our nearest major neighbour). At their centre are the youngest jets of a central black hole, surrounded by an oblong disk of stars. The detail provided in this radio image obtained with MeerKAT shows it to be shaped as a “double boomerang”.

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