Scientists are collaborating with astronomers around the world to study a distant galaxy

(ORDO NEWS) — A team of 86 scientists from 13 countries recently conducted extensive optical monitoring of the distant active galaxy BL Lacertae (BL Lac).

Mike Johner, professor of physics and astronomy at BYU, was one of the astronomers involved in the project.

Dr. Johner and student Gilvan Apolonio of Brigham Young University (BYU) have made over 200 observations of the galaxy with the 0.9-meter reflecting telescope at BYU’s West Mountain Observatory.

Their measurements were combined with observations made by other scientists around the world in a collaboration known as the Whole Earth Blazar Telescope (WEBT).

Using WEBT observations taken in the summer of 2020, astronomers have detected surprisingly fast fluctuations in brightness in the central jet of the BL Lac galaxy.

Scientists attribute these changes in brightness to bends in the jet’s magnetic field. Their study was recently published in the journal Nature.

The West Mountain Observatory at BYU was one of 37 ground-based telescopes around the world tracking the optical variations of BL Lac, which is about 1 billion light-years away.

Joner and Apolonio alternated nights at the observatory in different teams during the spring and summer of 2020. This atypical work schedule was necessary as observations were required every clear night.

Johner explained that the study needed to combine data from space-based observatories with ground-based optical monitoring data.

Space telescopes that are used in such projects often need to compare the results with ground-based optical observations.

Although Johner is a recognized expert in astrophysical research, he says he continues to be amazed at the level of detail that scientists achieve with such observations.

“On a galactic scale, the central jet of a blazar is quite small. It’s amazing to be able to see the jet variations so clearly,” he said.

“It is remarkable that in this age of giant telescopes and space exploration, it is still necessary to rely on modest but well-equipped equipment like the one we have at BYU to explore unknown corners of the universe.”


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