|FROM ||Ruben Safir
|SUBJECT ||Subject: [NYLXS - HANGOUT] Acts of Violence in the Universe - News You Might Have Missed
|Jet From Supermassive Black Hole Seen Blasting Neighboring Galaxy
By Marc Kaufman Washington Post Staff Writer Tuesday, December 18, 2007;
A jet of highly charged radiation from a supermassive black hole at
the center of a distant galaxy is blasting another galaxy nearby --
an act of galactic violence that astronomers said yesterday they have
never seen before.
Using images from the orbiting Chandra X-Ray Observatory and other
sources, scientists said the extremely intense jet from the larger galaxy
can be seen shooting across 20,000 light-years of space and plowing into
the outer gas and dust of the smaller one.
This composite photo provided by NASA shows A powerful jet from a
supermassive black hole is blasting a nearby galaxy in the system known
as 3C321, according to new results from NASA. This galactic violence,
never seen before, could have a profound effect on any planets in the
path of the jet and trigger a burst of star formation in the wake of its
destruction. (AP Photo/NASA) This composite photo provided by NASA shows
A powerful jet from a supermassive black hole is blasting a nearby galaxy
in the system known as 3C321, according to new results from NASA. This
galactic violence, never seen before, could have a profound effect on
any planets in the path of the jet and trigger a burst of star formation
in the wake of its destruction. (AP Photo/NASA) (AP) TOOLBOX Resize Text
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The smaller galaxy is being transformed by the radiation and the jet
is being bent before shooting millions of light-years farther in a
"What we've identified is an act of violence by a black hole, with
an unfortunate nearby galaxy in the line of fire," said Dan Evans,
the study leader at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in
Cambridge. He said any planets orbiting the stars of the smaller galaxy
would be dramatically affected, and any life forms would likely die as
the jet's radiation transformed the planets' atmosphere.
Black holes are generally thought of as mysterious cosmic phenomena that
swallow matter, but the supermassive ones that occur at the center of
many -- possibly all -- galaxies also set loose tremendous bursts of
energy as matter swirls around the disk of material that circles the
black hole but does not make it in.
That energy, often in the form of highly charged gamma rays and X-rays,
shoots out in powerful jets that can be millions of light-years long
and 1,000 light-years wide.
Scientists are just beginning to understand these jets, which not only
transform matter in their path but also help produce "stellar nurseries,"
where new stars are formed.
Evans's collaborator, Martin Hardcastle of the University of Hertfordshire
in England, said the collision they have identified began no more than 1
million years ago and could continue for 10 million to 100 million more
years. Hardcastle called the collision a great opportunity to learn more
about the jets.
"We see jets all over the universe, but we're still struggling to
understand some of their basic properties," he said. "This system
. . . gives us a chance to learn how they're affected when they slam
into something -- like a galaxy -- and what they do after that." ad_icon
The two galaxies are more than 1.4 billion light-years away from the Milky
Way galaxy (a light-year equals about 6 trillion miles). But they are
close to each other in cosmic terms -- about as far as the distance from
Earth to the center of the Milky Way. That the two appear to be moving
toward a merger may have played a role in creating such a powerful jet
from the larger galaxy's central black hole.
The researchers said that the collision would have no effect on Earth,
but the process is one that could play out in our galaxy a billion years
into the future.
The galaxy Andromeda is the closest to the Milky Way, and the two are
gradually coming closer to each other. In time, astronomers say, the two
will merge, and the process may cause the dormant central black holes
in either the Milky Way or Andromeda to become active and begin sending
out similarly powerful jets.
If a jet were to hit Earth, Evans said, it would destroy the ozone layer
and collapse the magnetosphere that blankets the planet and protects it
from harmful solar particles. Without the ozone layer and magnetosphere,
he said, much of life on Earth would end.
"This jet could be causing all sorts of problems for the smaller galaxy
it is pummeling," Evans said.
Neil deGrasse Tyson, an astrophysicist from the American Museum
of Natural History in New York, said the discovery illustrates how
researchers can now observe astronomical phenomena using many different
tools and understand how they behave at many different points along
the electromagnetic spectrum. Only when scientists measure a galaxy at
all different wavelengths, he said, "can you really understand what's
In making their discovery, the researchers used data from three orbiting
instruments -- the Chandra X-ray Observatory, the Hubble Space Telescope
and Spitzer Space Telescope -- as well as ground-based observatories
including the Very Large Array telescope in New Mexico and Britain's
Multi-Element Radio Linked Interferometer Network. The Astrophysical
Journal will publish the results next year. --
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