Rare galaxy found using Galaxy Zoo

Strong jets make the spiral galaxy a very unusual find


Galaxy J1649+2635 has strong radio jets, shown here in blue.

Credit: Mao et al., NRAO/AUI/NSF, Sloan Digital Sky Survey

A rare type of galaxy has been found using data provided by citizen science project Galaxy Zoo. The find could give insight into how galaxies evolved in the early Universe.

The object, named J1649+2635, is a spiral galaxy 800 million light years from Earth. What makes it remarkable is the prominent jets emanating from its core. While these jets are often seen coming from elliptical galaxies, it is only the fourth spiral found to contain them.

“The conventional wisdom is that such jets come only from elliptical galaxies that formed through the merger of spirals. We don't know how spirals can have these large jets,” says Minnie Mao, of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO). “In order to figure out how these jets can be produced by the 'wrong' kind of galaxy, we realised we needed to find more of them.”

To find these strange objects, Mao and her team turned to the huge wealth of data from Galaxy Zoo. The team found around 35,000 candidate spiral galaxies, which they then compared with radio data from the NRAO Very Large Array (VLA). This cross-matching led to the discovery that one of the galaxies, J1649+2635, was not only spiral but had very powerful twin jets.

“This is the first time that a galaxy was first identified as a spiral, then subsequently found to have large radio jets,” says Rya Duffin, a summer student who performed the cross matching. “It was exciting to make such a rare find.”

The colossal jets are powered by the galaxy’s supermassive black hole. Material surrounding the black hole is pulled in to the centre and then accelerated along the poles of the disk. Usually this is only possible in galaxies undergoing a merger, where two galaxies collide ensuring there is enough ‘fuel’ for the process. Such a collision however usually destroys all spiral structure. It’s still uncertain how this handful of galaxies could have jets, while still remaining a spiral.

“This galaxy presents us with many mysteries. We want to know how it became such a strange beast,” says Mao. “We hope that with projects like the Galaxy Zoo and another called Radio Galaxy Zoo, those thousands of citizen scientists can help us find many more galaxies like this one so we can answer all our questions.”


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