A Cosmic Double Helix in the Archetypical Quasar 3C273

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Science  05 Oct 2001:
Vol. 294, Issue 5540, pp. 128-131
DOI: 10.1126/science.1063239

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Finding direct evidence for plasma instability in extragalactic jets is crucial for understanding the nature of relativistic outflows from active galactic nuclei. Our radio interferometric observations of the quasar 3C273 made with the orbiting radio telescope, HALCA, and an array of ground telescopes have yielded an image in which the emission across the jet is resolved, revealing two threadlike patterns that form a double helix inside the jet. This double helical structure is consistent with a Kelvin-Helmholtz instability, and at least five different instability modes can be identified and modeled by a light jet with a Lorentz factor of 2 and Mach number of 3.5. The model reproduces in detail the internal structure of the jet on scales of up to 30 milli–arc seconds (∼300 parsecs) and is consistent with the general morphology of the jet on scales of up to 1 kiloparsec.

  • * To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: alobanov{at}

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