Spotted: ‘Death Star’ Black Holes in Action

Abell 478 and NGC 5044 (Labeled)
Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/Univ. of Bologna/F. Ubertosi; Insets Radio: NSF/AUI/NRAO/VLBA; Wide field Image: Optical/IR: Univ. of Hawaii/Pan-STARRS; Image Processing: NASA/CXC/SAO/N. Wolk

Huge black holes are firing powerful beams of particles into space — and then changing their aim to fire at new targets. This discovery, made using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) National Radio Astronomy Observatory’s (NRAO) Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA), shows what kind of widespread impact black holes can have on their surrounding galaxy and beyond.

A team of astronomers looked at 16 supermassive black holes in galaxies surrounded by hot gas detected in X-rays by Chandra. Using radio data from the VLBA, operated by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, they studied the directions of beams — also known as jets — of particles fired a few light-years away from the black holes. This gives the scientists a picture of where each beam is currently pointed, as seen from Earth. Each black hole fires two beams in opposite directions.

The team then used Chandra data to study pairs of cavities, or bubbles, in the hot gas that were created in the past by the beams pushing gas outwards. The locations of large outer cavities indicate the direction those beams pointed millions of years earlier. The researchers then compared the directions of the radio beams with the directions of the pairs of cavities. Read the full release HERE.

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