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Best-ever snapshot of black hole jets 'captured'

Merging X-ray data (blue) from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory with microwave (orange) and visible images reveals the jets and radio-emitting lobes emanating from Centaurus A's central black hole. Photo:NASA

WASHINGTON (PTI): Planetary scientists have captured what they claim is the best-ever most detailed image of particle jets erupting from a supermassive black hole in a nearby galaxy.

An international team, including NASA-funded scientists, produced the image using radio telescopes located throughout the Southern Hemisphere.

"These jets arise as infalling matter approaches the black hole, but we don't yet know the details of how they form and maintain themselves," said Cornelia Mueller of University of Erlangen-Nuremberg in Germany, the study's lead author.

The new image shows a region less than 4.2 light-years across, less than the distance between our sun and the nearest star. Radio-emitting features as small as 15 lightdays can be seen, making this the highest-resolution view of galactic jets ever made.

The team targeted Centaurus A, a nearby galaxy with a supermassive black hole weighing 55 million times the sun's mass. Also known as NGC 5128, Cen A is located 12 million light-years away in the constellation Centaurus and is one of the first celestial radio sources identified with a galaxy.

Seen in radio waves, Cen A is one of the biggest and brightest objects in the sky, nearly 20 times the apparent size of a full moon. This is because the visible galaxy lies nestled between a pair of giant radio-emitting lobes, each nearly a million light-years long.

Using an intercontinental array of nine radio telescopes, the scientists were able to effectively zoom into the galaxy's innermost realm.

"Advanced computer techniques allow us to combine data from the individual telescopes to yield images with the sharpness of a single giant telescope, one nearly as large as Earth itself," said Roopesh Ojha at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt.

The findings are to appear in an upcoming edition of the 'Astronomy and Astrophysics' journal.


Black hole  NASA  

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