Supermassive black holes and supernova explosions at the centres of active galaxies power cycles of outflowing and inflowing gas that affect galactic evolution and the overall structure of the Universe1,2. While simulations and observations show that this must be the case, the range of physical scales (over ten orders of magnitude) and paucity of available tracers make both the simulation and observation of these effects difficult3,4. By serendipity, there lies an active galaxy, Centaurus A (NGC 5128)5,6, at such a close proximity as to allow its observation over this entire range of scales and across the entire electromagnetic spectrum. In the radio band, however, details on scales of 10–100 kpc from the supermassive black hole have so far been obscured by instrumental limitations7,8. Here we report low-frequency radio observations that overcome these limitations and show evidence for a broad, bipolar outflow with velocity of 1,100 km s−1 and mass-outflow rate of 2.9 M⊙ yr−1 on these scales. We combine our data with the plethora of multiscale, multi-wavelength, historical observations of Centaurus A to probe a unified view of feeding and feedback, which we show to be consistent with the chaotic cold accretion self-regulation scenario9,10.
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The raw visibility data from the MWA that support the findings of this study (as detailed in Table 1) are publicly available from the MWA All-Sky Virtual Observatory; https://asvo.mwatelescope.org/. The MWA radio image data (as displayed in Figs. 1 and 2 and Extended Data Fig. 1) can be accessed through the Strasbourg Astronomical Data Center (CDS) via anonymous ftp to cdsarc.u-strasbg.fr (18.104.22.168) or via https://cdsarc.unistra.fr/viz-bin/cat/J/other/NatAs. Optical image data require specialist instrumental knowledge for accurate interpretation and will be made available upon reasonable request to the corresponding author, so that additional guidance can be provided.
No custom code or algorithm was developed as part of this work, apart from simple scripting routines written in the Python language and used to run standard astronomy software tools, as described in the text.
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This scientific work makes use of the Murchison Radio-Astronomy Observatory, operated by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation. We acknowledge the Wajarri Yamatji people as the traditional owners of the Observatory site. Support for the operation of the MWA is provided by the Australian Government through the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy, under a contract to Curtin University administered by Astronomy Australia Limited. We acknowledge the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre, which is supported by the Western Australian and Australian Governments. M.G. acknowledges partial support by National Aeronautics and Space Administration Chandra GO8-19104X/GO9-20114X and Hubble Space Telescope GO-15890.020/023-A, and the BlackHoleWeather programme. M.S.C. and M.M. thank S. Courteau and D. Simons for CFHT Director’s discretionary time via the Mauna Kea Graduate School programme. Research by D.C. is supported by National Science Foundation grant AST-1814208. This work was supported by an Australian Research Council Future Fellowship under grant FT180100321. The authors thank A. Pillepich, R. Morganti, R. Wahl-Olsen and M. Sidonio for useful discussions and guidance during preparation of the manuscript.
The authors declare no competing interests.
Peer review information Nature Astronomy thanks Martin Hardcastle, Gene Leung and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.
Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
Centaurus A as imaged with the MWA at 185 MHz, with the intensity scale manipulated in order to deal with the extreme dynamic range of the image. The intensity scale has been altered in a non-linear fashion, so the greyscale/colorscale range is not meaningful and is not displayed. This is intended as a qualitative representation of the data only. The average restoring beam is a Gaussian of width 1.5 x 1.2 arcmin with a major axis position angle of 155°. Right: The image has been stretched using the astrophotography program PixInsight (see Methods) to effectively identify and label the key features of the radio galaxy. This image was not used for quantitative analyses, but is used here to indicate the positions of various features discussed in the text, including the 71° opening angle estimated for the southern component of the broad AGN outflow (blue lines). Left: Color has been added to the stretched image in the right panel using Photoshop, in order to better show the large-scale diffuse emission along with the finer details of the radio lobes. Yellow and white show higher intensities, while red and magenta show lower intensities.
Widefield Hα image of the central 1° of Centaurus A taken with CFHT. The point spread function is characterised by a two-dimensional Moffat function with a core width of 5.7 arcsec (see Methods). Red contours show the X-ray knots from Fig. 2 at approximately 3σ and 6σ above the background noise, where σ is the standard deviation of a group of background pixels. Blue contours are from the MWA radio image at 0.5, 1, 1.5, 2 Jy/beam. The average restoring beam of the MWA image from which the blue contours were obtained is a Gaussian of width 1.5 x 1.2 arcmin with a major axis position angle of 155°. Top right inset: higher resolution (0.8 arcsec) MMTF image41 zoom in on part of the outer filament showing the arcs of ionised gas which resemble bow shocks. Bottom left inset: higher resolution (0.8 arcsec) MMTF image41 zoom in on inner filament showing a similarly shaped arc of ionised gas, indicating the presence of a wind from the central galaxy.
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McKinley, B., Tingay, S.J., Gaspari, M. et al. Multi-scale feedback and feeding in the closest radio galaxy Centaurus A. Nat Astron 6, 109–120 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41550-021-01553-3