Imagine spotting the laser beam from the fictitious Death Star of “Star Wars” fame as you scan a distant galaxy. That comes close to what an international team saw as they surveyed the Pictor A galaxy. Not only did they find a supermassive black hole in the galaxy about 500 million light years away but were able to study something even more stunning – a huge amount of gravitational energy streaming from the black hole and forming a visible beam or jet.

The beam, compromised of particles traveling nearly the speed of light into intergalactic space, stretched for a distance of 300,000 light years – three times the diameter of the entire Milky Way. “We’ve known these jets exist for many, many years and the jet in Pictor A is a particularly good example because the galaxy that is generating happens to be particularly close so we can see it really well,” the University of Hertfordshire’s Martin Hardcastle, a lead author on a study of the discovery in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, told FULL REPORT