Black Hole Spills Kaleidoscope of Color

July 24, 2006
Black Hole Spills Kaleidoscope of Color
A new false-colored image from NASA's Hubble, Chandra and Spitzer space telescopes shows a giant jet of particles that has been shot out from the vicinity of a type of supermassive black hole called a quasar. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Yale Univ

Shoes may not come in every color, but space objects do. All objects in space, everything from dust to distant galaxies, give off a rainbow of light - including light our eyes can't see. That's where NASA's Great Observatories come in. Together, they help astronomers see all the shades of the cosmos.

A new false-colored image from NASA's Hubble, Chandra and Spitzer space telescopes demonstrates this principle beautifully. The multi-hued portrait shows a giant jet of particles that has been shot out from the vicinity of a type of supermassive black hole called a quasar. The jet is enormous, stretching across more than 100,000 light-years of space - a size comparable to our own Milky Way galaxy!

Quasars are among the brightest objects in the universe. They consist of supermassive black holes surrounded by turbulent material, which is being heated up as it is dragged toward the black hole. This hot material glows brilliantly, and some of it gets blown off into space in the form of powerful jets.

The jet pictured here is streaming out from the first known quasar, called 3C273, discovered in 1963. A kaleidoscope of colors represents the jet's assorted light waves. X-rays, the highest-energy light in the image, are shown at the far left in blue (the black hole itself is well to the left of the image). The X-rays were captured by Chandra. As you move from left to right, the light diminishes in energy, and wavelengths increase in size. Visible light recorded by Hubble is displayed in green, while infrared light caught by Spitzer is red. Areas where visible and infrared light overlap appear yellow.

Astronomers were able to use these data to solve the mystery of how light is produced is quasar jets. Light is created in a few, very different ways. For example, our sun generates most of its light via a process called fusion, in which hydrogen atoms are combined, causing an explosion of light. In the case of this jet, even the most energetic light was unexpectedly found to be the result of charged particles spiraling through a magnetic field, a process known as synchrotron radiation.

Source: by Whitney Clavin/JPL

Explore further: Magnetic reconnection research sheds light on explosive phenomena in astrophysics and fusion experiments

Related Stories

How strong is the force of gravity on Earth?

December 7, 2016

Gravity is a pretty awesome fundamental force. If it wasn't for the Earth's comfortable 1 g, which causes objects to fall towards the Earth at a speed of 9.8 m/s², we'd all float off into space. And without it, all us terrestrial ...

New studies take a second look at coral bleaching culprit

December 7, 2016

Scientists have called superoxide out as the main culprit behind coral bleaching: The idea is that as this toxin build up inside coral cells, the corals fight back by ejecting the tiny energy- and color-producing algae living ...

Recommended for you

Hubble catches a transformation in the Virgo constellation

December 9, 2016

The constellation of Virgo (The Virgin) is especially rich in galaxies, due in part to the presence of a massive and gravitationally-bound collection of over 1300 galaxies called the Virgo Cluster. One particular member of ...

Khatyrka meteorite found to have third quasicrystal

December 9, 2016

(Phys.org)—A small team of researchers from the U.S. and Italy has found evidence of a naturally formed quasicrystal in a sample obtained from the Khatyrka meteorite. In their paper published in the journal Scientific Reports, ...

Scientists sweep stodgy stature from Saturn's C ring

December 9, 2016

As a cosmic dust magnet, Saturn's C ring gives away its youth. Once thought formed in an older, primordial era, the ring may be but a mere babe – less than 100 million years old, according to Cornell-led astronomers in ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.