Black Hole Spills Kaleidoscope of Color

Jul 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: Bubbles from the galactic center: A key to understanding dark matter and our galaxy's past?

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Snapshot of cosmic burst of radio waves

Jan 19, 2015

A strange phenomenon has been observed by astronomers right as it was happening - a 'fast radio burst'. The eruption is described as an extremely short, sharp flash of radio waves from an unknown source in ...

Peat fire emissions may shed light on climate change

Jan 16, 2015

Wildfires, which send hot flames and smoke high into the air, create black carbon emissions associated with climate change and risk to human health. Carbon emissions from wildfires in the contiguous U.S. ...

Will the real monster black hole please stand up?

Jan 08, 2015

(Phys.org)β€”A new high-energy X-ray image from NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, has pinpointed the true monster of a galactic mashup. The image shows two colliding galaxies, collectively ...

A new, public view of the sky

Jan 07, 2015

For the first time, scientists and the public are beginning to see the large-scale structure of the universe, thanks to the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. UA scientists provide scientific expertise and crucial ...

New image brings galaxy diversity to life

Jan 06, 2015

A compelling new image from Gemini Observatory peers into the heart of a group of galaxies (VV166) traveling through space together. The variety of galactic forms range from a perfect spiral, to featureless ...

Recommended for you

Black hole chokes on a swallowed star

Jan 26, 2015

A five-year analysis of an event captured by a tiny telescope at McDonald Observatory and followed up by telescopes on the ground and in space has led astronomers to believe they witnessed a giant black hole ...

Swarm of microprobes to head for Jupiter

Jan 26, 2015

A swarm of tiny probes each with a different sensor could be fired into the clouds of Jupiter and grab data as they fall before burning up in the gas giant planet's atmosphere. The probes would last an estimated ...

User comments : 0

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.