The Hercules Galaxy Lives Up To Its Name With Super-Strong Plasma Jets

Specifically, that bright dot in the center of this image is Hercules A, a galaxy located over two billion light-years from Earth. But what really dominates the scene are the two gargantuan jets of plasma shooting out of Hercules A.

The plasma jets themselves are each over a million light-years long, meaning you could lay ten copies of the entire Milky Way end-to-end inside each one of the jets. The jets themselves aren't visible in the wavelengths we're used to — they only show up when this area of space is imaged in radio waves. The image above is a mix of a visible light image taken by the Hubble Telescope, which shows Hercules A in the center, and a radio image taken by the Very Large Array radio telescope in New Mexico, which reveals the plasma jets.

We don't know exactly what creates these remarkable plasma bursts, but it's probably related to just how gigantic Hercules A's central supermassive black hole is. Both galaxy and black hole are proportionally larger than their Milky Way equivalents — Hercules A is estimated to be a thousand times more massive than our galaxy, while the supermassive black hole is also thought to be about a thousand times more massive than our own Sagittarius A*. The constant inflow of mass into the black hole of Hercules A likely provides the unimaginable amount of energy needed to power these jets.

Via NASA. Image Credit: NASA, ESA, S. Baum & C. O'Dea (RIT), R. Perley and W. Cotton (NRAO/AUI/NSF), and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA).