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Thursday, 6 July, 2000, 14:20 GMT 15:20 UK
Hubble spies cosmic searchlight
Nasa-Stsci
M87's jet: Thrown across space by the power of a black hole
By BBC News Online science editor Dr David Whitehouse

The Hubble Space Telescope has taken pictures of a black-hole-powered jet of superhot gas streaming out from the centre of a galaxy.

The jet emerging from the core of galaxy M87 is like a cosmic searchlight and is composed of electrons and other sub-atomic particles travelling at nearly the speed of light.

As early as 1918, the galaxy M87 was noted as peculiar. Astronomer H D Curtis remarked on a "curious straight ray" protruding from M 87.

In the 1950s, when radio astronomy was beginning, one of the brightest radio sources in the sky was called Virgo A.

It was later discovered to be associated with M87 and its jet. Since then, it has been an object of intense scrutiny.

It is believed that the incredible amount of energy that must be powering the jet must come from a supermassive black hole, which has swallowed two billion times the mass of our Sun.

The jet comes from the disk of superheated gas swirling around the black hole and is funnelled by intense, twisted magnetic fields.

The light from the jet is produced by electrons twisting through the magnetic fields in a process known as synchrotron radiation.

Situated 50 million light-years away, M87 is too distant for Hubble to discern individual stars. The dozens of star-like points swarming around M87 are actually clusters of hundreds of thousands of stars.


In DepthIN DEPTH
hubble pictureEye on space
10 years of the Hubble Space Telescope
See also:

14 Jan 00 | Science/Nature
14 Jan 00 | Science/Nature
08 Feb 99 | Science/Nature
11 Jun 98 | Science/Nature
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