The bright spines of the initially straight jets become unstable just outside the galaxy, where some of the electrons escape to create several faint radio “threads” below IC 4296. Between the bright jets and the outer lobes are smooth “ribbons” filling channels excavated from the surrounding gas by defunct jets from an earlier period of activity. The ribbons are eventually stopped by intergalactic gas, nearly a million light-years from the central galaxy (a distance equal to 10 times the diameter of our Milky Way home galaxy), and form the “smoke rings” visible in the left radio lobe.
Jim Condon of the US National Radio Astronomy Observatory – lead author of the study just accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal that summarizes this research done by a US-South African team – says that “only MeerKAT’s unique combination of sensitivity, angular resolution, and dynamic range allowed the discovery of these threads, ribbons, and rings” in this previously well-studied galaxy.
As noted by the anonymous reviewer of the manuscript submitted for publication, “it is clear that new results like this from MeerKAT and other SKA pathfinders are set to overhaul our understanding of extragalactic radio sources”.