Strange Spiral Galaxy Stumps Astronomers

Spiral galaxies like our Milky Way are nothing special–in fact, they’re the most common type of galaxy. But astronomers are buzzing about the recent discovery of a very unusual spiral galaxy that sports big jets of subatomic particles that stream outward at nearly the speed of light.

Known formally as J1649+2635, the galaxy is located about 800 light-years from Earth and is only the fourth spiral galaxy with jets (or lobes) ever observed, according to a written statement issued by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO).

“The conventional wisdom is that such jets come only from elliptical galaxies that formed through the merger of spirals,” Dr. Minnie Mao, a postdoctoral fellow working for NRAO in Socorro, NM, said in the statement. “We don’t know how spirals can have these large jets.”

Jets like those seen in J1649+2635 form when some of the matter in a spinning “accretion disk” around the supermassive black hole at the heart of the galaxy is ejected outward. The disruption of gas that occurs when spiral galaxies merge to form an elliptical galaxy is believed to fuel the ejection process. But the same disruption destroys any spiral structure–at least according to widely accepted theory.

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