Massive outburst in neighbor galaxy surprises astronomers

Jan 07, 2013
HSA image of bright "hotspots" (inset), in galaxy NGC 660. Entire HSA image is less than a pixel in the larger optical image. Credit: Minchin et al., NRAO/AUI/NSF (HSA); Travis Rector, Gemini Observatory, AURA (optical).

(—The surprising discovery of a massive outburst in a neighboring galaxy is giving astronomers a tantalizing look at what likely is a powerful belch by a gorging black hole at the galaxy's center. The scientists were conducting a long-term study of molecules in galaxies, when one of the galaxies showed a dramatic change.

"The discovery was entirely serendipitous. Our observations were spread over a few years, and when we looked at them, we found that one galaxy had changed over that time from being placid and quiescent, to undergoing a hugely energetic at the end," said Robert Minchin, of , who presented the research.

The scientists were using the National Science Foundation's (NSF) 305-meter William E. Gordon Telescope at Arecibo for their study when they discovered the outburst in NGC 660, a 44 million light-years distant in the constellation Pisces. The outburst was ten times brighter than the largest supernova, or . They reported their findings at the 's meeting in Long Beach, California.

After detecting the outburst, the team continued to observe NGC 660 with the Arecibo Telescope, and also sought to determine the cause of the outburst using an international network of telescopes to make a detailed image of the galaxy.

"High-resolution imaging is the key to understanding what's going on," said Emmanuel Momjian, of the (NRAO). "We needed to know if the outburst came from a supernova in this galaxy or from the galaxy's core. We could only do that by harnessing the high-resolution imaging power we get by joining widely-separated radio telescopes together."

The astronomers used a network called the High Sensitivity Array (HSA), composed of the NSF's (VLBA), a continent-wide system of ten ranging from Hawaii to the Virgin islands; the Arecibo Telescope; the NSF's 100-meter Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia; and the 100-meter Effelsberg Radio Telescope of the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Germany.

"By adding the large collecting area of the three big dishes to the VLBA, we got the images much more quickly. What we did with the HSA in less than half a day would have taken nearly nine days with the VLBA alone," Momjian said.

The resulting images were more complex than the scientists expected. They thought they would see either the ring of an expanding supernova or a jet of superfast material from the galaxy's core. Instead, they saw five sites of bright radio emission, one near the center of the galaxy and two on either side.

"The most likely explanation is that there are jets coming from the core, but they are precessing, or wobbling, and the hot spots we see are where the jets slammed into material near the galaxy's nucleus," said Chris Salter, of Arecibo Observatory. "To confirm this, we will continue to observe the galaxy with the HSA over the next few years," he added.

If the jet idea is correct, the outburst probably was caused by material pulled into the supermassive black hole at the center of the galaxy. The material would form a rapidly-spinning disk around the black hole before finally falling into it, and the disk would generate jets of particles blasting outward at nearly the speed of light.

Astronomers are carefully watching a gas cloud in our own Milky Way Galaxy that is expected to fall into our Galaxy's central black hole in the middle of this year.

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User comments : 10

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1 / 5 (9) Jan 07, 2013
Cosmic ray superwave illuminating nearby gas clouds, causing synchrotron radiation in our direction, like in the Crab today?? Read LaViolette.

5 / 5 (2) Jan 07, 2013
"If the jet idea is correct, the outburst probably was caused by material pulled into the supermassive black hole at the center of the galaxy."

There should be an adequate supply of raw materials to feed this particular SMBH. Previous studies have found a compact, dusty nuclear starburst at the core of NGC 660:


While the article mentions that NGC 660 is a spiral galaxy, it is actually a rare "polar ring" galaxy:

1 / 5 (4) Jan 07, 2013
I'm gonna go ahead and dumb down this conversation by stating that that is clearly a spacecock.
5 / 5 (2) Jan 07, 2013
I, for one, welcome our SMBH Galactic Overlords.

@ Tuxford: Sorry to out-burst your crackpot ideas, but this is a science blog and not a fantasy site.

@ be4r: Balls!
5 / 5 (1) Jan 08, 2013
tuxford, why is it that the galactic superwaves that occur when the sunquantum kinetics kicks in that causes core explosions and ejections and that nothing is sucked in only ejected in the spontaneous creation of new matter yet we see these event caused by the absorbtion of material, the opposite of the sunquantum kinetics theory. how does laviolettes theory plan on explaining the current cloud of gas we;ve been watching getting ready to be sucked into the milky ways black hole as we watch? its already happened tuxford, its just a matter of time till we see it reach its conclusion. then what will you and laviolette do? did he somehow misunderstand the secet alien code hidden in pulsars telling him of a galactic core explosion in the past and warning of a future one while also explaining subquantum kinetics to him? maybe when he said he visited them in their world and recieved a medal from them in his mind he got too confident? tuxford laviolette is science fiction!fantasy!make believe!
5 / 5 (4) Jan 08, 2013
"how does laviolettes theory plan on explaining the current cloud of gas we;ve been watching getting ready to be sucked into the milky ways black hole as we watch?"

I was rather amused with his explanation. At first, he predicted no superwave would be generated by the encounter of the gas cloud G2 with Sgr A*. Then, according to some remote viewing "research" (via ESP), he now says some mysterious event will happen on Earth June 1, 2013: http://starburstf...g/?p=267

Setting aside the implausible notion that this superwave will travel 26,000 ly from the nucleus instantaneously, the closest approach of G2 from Sgr A*(about 270 AU) is expected to occur 3 months later, sometime around September 10, 2013:

LaViolette's predictions aren't just science fiction, they're BAD science fiction.
not rated yet Jan 09, 2013
whoops, it should be subquantum kinetics, not sunquantum kinetics. typo on my part i just caught.

thank you yyz. i remember you questioning him on it in an earlier article now. i agree, he is getting more and more desperate it seems.
1 / 5 (3) Jan 09, 2013
"Setting aside the implausible notion that this superwave will travel 26,000 ly from the nucleus instantaneously,"

Just as I suspected, Z can read, but he can't really think well.

And Dark, can just barely communicate. Look at all the dribble.
not rated yet Jan 09, 2013
good comeback tuxford, how about you address the many issues presented?
5 / 5 (1) Jan 10, 2013
"Setting aside the implausible notion that this superwave will travel 26,000 ly from the nucleus instantaneously,"

Just as I suspected, Z can read, but he can't really think well. .
Since galactic superwaves have been described as "volleys of cosmic rays," and cosmic rays consist of massive particles that must travel slower than light, yyz was expressing amazement at the idea that the cosmic rays would arrive faster than the light-news from the event that produces them. Rather than casting dubious assertions, why don't you address the apparent contradiction?

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