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Black hole shows shocked astronomers some real star power

By Marshall Connolly, Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
January 9th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Astronomers are surprised by their observations of a black hole which made its presence known by firing an energetic burst of particles into space. What's you won't believe is just how massive those jets are.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - These are not little jets, squirting out from the poles of the supermassive black hole in the middle of the galaxy NGC 660, found in the constellation Pisces. Instead, these jets were so bright and powerful they were easily observed by astronomers here on Earth, some 44 million light-years away.

The burst was five times more bright than the brightest supernova ever recorded. A supernova is the explosion of a star that happens when it reaches the end of its life. Supernova explosions can be brighter than an entire galaxy when they occur. However, this jet emanating from the black hole in NGC 660 was five times brighter than the brightest supernova ever recorded - ever.

Astronomers discovered the jet by accident, by comparing images of NGC 660 takes several years apart. In one image nothing, in the other, and incredible bright spot that exceeded all expectations.

As soon as astronomers saw the initial images, they knew they had something extraordinary to look at. To follow up their initial observation, they employed several arrays of telescopes around the world. Combining the data from these ultra-sensitive instruments, they found the telltale fingerprints of a jet emanating from a black hole in the center of the NGC 660.

 This is a known phenomenon. Nearly all galaxies, including our own Milky Way, are clustered around central supermassive black holes. These black holes are far more massive than our sun by factors of millions and even billions.

As matter from surrounding space falls into the black hole it gets accelerated to extraordinary speeds, much like the way a figure skater spins more rapidly as she folds her arms closer to her body. The matter becomes very hot and energetic as it is powerfully compressed Into a smaller and smaller space, moving rapidly. Although black holes are so powerful that not even light can escape them, hence the name black holes, some of the matter can escape just before it is devoured, shot outwards from the poles of the black hole just before it's too late.

These jets have been observed coming from massive black holes all around the universe suggesting the phenomenon is common.

What scientists can't yet explain is why this jet is so many times brighter and more energetic than other similar jets.

Astronomy is filled with such mysteries. As new and improved instruments come online and new methods of evaluating data are developed, more questions than answers emerge. Astronomers say these questions are essential to understanding our universe and our place within it, as well as where we came from, and where we may be going in the generations to follow.

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