Space

August 23, 2013

Astronomers use Hubble images for movies featuring space slinky

Astronomers have assembled, from more than 13 years of observations from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, a series of time-lapse movies showing a jet of superheated gas – 5,000 light-years long – as it is ejected from a supermassive black hole.

The movies promise to give astronomers a better understanding of how black holes shape galaxy evolution.

“Central, supermassive black holes are a key component in all big galaxies,” said Eileen T. Meyer of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Md. “Most of these black holes are believed to have gone through an active phase, and black-hole powered jets from this active phase play a key role in the evolution of galaxies. By studying the details of this process in the nearest galaxy with an optical jet, we can hope to learn more about galaxy formation and black hole physics in general.”

The research team spent eight months analyzing 400 observations from Hubble’s Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 and Advanced Camera for Surveys. The observations, taken from 1995 to 2008, are of a black hole sitting in the center of a giant galaxy dubbed M87.

“We analyzed several years’ worth of Hubble data of a relatively nearby spiraling jet of plasma emitted from a black hole, which allowed us to see lots of details,” Meyer said. “The only reason you see the distant jet in motion is because it is traveling very fast.”

Meyer found evidence that suggests the jet’s spiral motion is created by a helix-shaped magnetic field surrounding the black hole. In the outer part of the M87 jet, for example, one bright gas clump, called knot B, appears to zigzag, as if it were moving along a spiral path. Several other gas clumps along the jet also appear to loop around an invisible structure.

M87 resides at the center of the neighboring Virgo cluster of roughly 2,000 galaxies, located 50 million light years away. The galaxy’s monster black hole is several billion times more massive than our sun.

The Hubble data also provided information on why the M87 jet is composed of a long string of gas blobs, which appear to brighten and dim over time.

“The jet structure is very clumpy. Is this a ballistic effect, like cannonballs fired sequentially from a cannon?” Meyer asked, “or, are there some particularly interesting physics going on, such as a shock that is magnetically driven?”

Meyer’s team found evidence for both scenarios. “We found things that move quickly,” Meyer said. “We found things that move slowly. And, we found things that are stationary. This study shows us that the clumps are very dynamic sources.”

It is too soon to tell whether all black-hole-powered jets behave like the one in M87, which is why Meyer plans to use Hubble to study three more jets. “It’s always dangerous to have exactly one example because it could be a strange outlier,” Meyer said. “The M87 black hole is justification for looking at more jets.”

The team’s results appeared Aug. 22 in the online issue of The Astrophysical Journal Letters.




All of this week's top headlines to your email every Friday.


 
 

 

NASA airborne campaigns tackle climate questions from Africa to Arctic

NASA photograph The DC-8 airborne laboratory is one of several NASA aircraft that will fly in support of five new investigations into how different aspects of the interconnected Earth system influence climate change. NASA photograph The DC-8 airborne laboratory is one of several NASA aircraft that will fly in support of five new investigations into...
 
 
NASA photograph by Aubrey Gemignani

New crew arrives at space station to continue scientific research

NASA photograph by Aubrey Gemignani The Soyuz TMA-15M rocket launches from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan Nov. 24, 2014 carrying Expedition 42 Soyuz Commander Anton Shkaplerov of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosm...
 
 
nasa-cube

NASA opens Cube Quest Challenge for largest-ever prize of $5 million

Registration now is open for NASA’s Cube Quest Challenge, the agency’s first in-space competition that offers the agency’s largest-ever prize purse. Competitors have a shot at a share of $5 million in prize money and ...
 

 
Lockheed Martin image

Ball Aerospace equips Orion mission with key avionics, antenna hardware

Lockheed Martin image Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. is providing the phased array antennas and flight test cameras to prime contractor Lockheed Martin for Orion’s Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1), which is an u...
 
 
NASA photograph

NASA announces new opportunities for public participation in asteroid grand challenge

NASA photograph Team NOVA Took the Winning Hackathon Prize.   Ten new projects are providing opportunities for the public to participate in NASA’s Asteroid Grand Challenge, which accelerates the agency’s astero...
 
 
XCOR Aerospace photograph by Mike Massee

XCOR Aerospace announces latest milestone in ULA program

XCOR Aerospace photograph by Mike Massee The XCOR-ULA XR-5H25 LOX-Hydrogen Rocket Engine, fed by XCOR’s proprietary rocket propellant piston pump technology. MOJAVE, Calif. XCOR Aerospace announced Nov. 20 it has complete...
 




0 Comments


Be the first to comment!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>