It might not look like much, but this neon blob is the highest-resolution astronomical image that we have. It shows a jet of material streaming out of a black hole located 900 million light years away.
The image and the resulting analysis were published this week in The Astrophysical Journal.
The image was created by the combined powers of 15 radio telescopes, most located here on Earth, and the Russian Spektr-R radio space telescope. The combined power of the telescopes was equivalent to a telescope 63,000 miles across.
The jet itself is huge, and would just fit inside the Oort cloud that surrounds our solar system, a distance of roughly 186 billion miles at its minimum. But because we’re so far away from the jet, the resulting image is equivalent to looking up at the moon from Earth and being able to see a half-dollar coin on the surface.
The black hole is located at the center of the BL Lacertae galaxy, and the jet it produces has been observed to have a spiraling magnetic field shooting particles outwards much faster than they would without the coiled acceleration. Researchers hope that future observations of the jets might help revise their theories on how the jets produce microwave radiation.