NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope spotted TXS 0128+554, a faint source of gamma rays, the highest-energy form of light, a few years back, and it resembled a TIE Fighter from Star Wars. The galaxy is situated 500 million light-years away in the constellation Cassiopeia, anchored by a supermassive black hole around 1 billion times the Sun’s mass. However, it’s classified as an active galaxy, which means that even with all its stars together, it still can’t account for the amount of light emitted. Read more for a video and additional information.
TXS 0128 spans 35 light-years across and tilts about 50 degrees out of our line of sight, which means its jets aren’t pointed directly at us and may explain why the galaxy is so dim in gamma rays. The unique shape depends on the radio frequency used, and at 6.6 GHz the TIE Fighter shape appears, while at 15.4 GHz, a clear gap in the radio emission appears between the galaxy’s core and its lobes.
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After the Fermi announcement, we zoomed in a million times closer on the galaxy using the VLBA’s radio antennas and charted its shape over time. The first time I saw the results, I immediately thought it looked like Darth Vader’s TIE fighter spacecraft from ‘Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope.’ That was a fun surprise, but its appearance at different radio frequencies also helped us learn more about how active galaxies can change dramatically on decade time scales,” said Matthew Lister, a professor of physics and astronomy at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana.