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Catching a Glimpse of a Black Hole's Fury - Windows to the Universe

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This picture, created by an artist, shows the area near a supermassive black hole where jet of particles flow in spirals. Research suggests this pattern is due to twisted magnetic fields.
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Image courtesy of Marscher et al., Wolfgang Steffen, Cosmovision, NRAO/AUI/NSF

Catching a Glimpse of a Black Hole's Fury
News story originally written on April 23, 2008

With the help of some powerful telescopes, a team of scientists has been spying on a black hole at the center of a galaxy that is 950 million light years from Earth.

This is not just any black hole. This is a supermassive black hole - millions of times more massive than the Sun. Jets of charged particles flow from it so fast that they nearly travel at the speed of light.

How these jets of charged particles work has been a mystery. To learn more about them, the team of scientists used the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA) and international telescope partners too. With these tools they could look at the clearest view ever captured of the innermost region of the black hole. They looked at an outburst of charged particles from the galaxy from late 2005 to 2006.

The images reveal evidence that the enormous jets of particles emitted by supermassive black holes form coiling patterns. The researchers believe the coiling is because the particles flow through twisted magnetic fields that are close to the black hole.

"This is a major advance in our understanding of a remarkable process that occurs throughout the Universe," said Alan Marscher of Boston University, leader of the research team.

Last modified May 8, 2008 by Lisa Gardiner.

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