Hubble spies black hole blowing bubbles
Click on each image for larger views of the bubble-blowing black hole,
located in the lower left corner of the top image. The second image shows a
close-up of the black hole's effects
(CNN) -- Shooting streams of matter in opposite directions, a
supermassive black hole is creating giant bubbles of hot gas
in space, astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope said
The NASA observatory snapped images of one bright bubble
ascending from below a dark band of dust. A second
bubble extends below the band, but the dust obscures most of
Located in the Virgo Cluster, the black hole resides in the
central region of a nearby galaxy some 50 million light years
A 'disturbed mess' of a galaxy
"A lot of galaxies don't have that much gas lying around, but this one did so it made a pretty bubble," said Jeffrey Kenney, a Yale University professor who detected the black hole in the Hubble images.
The bubble came as a surprise to Kenney, who had trained the Hubble telescope on the galaxy, NGC 4438, because of its unusual shape, caused by a run-in with another group of stars.
"The galaxy is very disturbed, a mess. I didn't know the nucleus was so interesting, so that was a surprise," he said.
The black hole feeds off material from its accretion disk,
the white region underneath the bright bubble. Some of the
matter streams out in opposite directions in fast-moving twin
They eventually collide with dense regions of slow-moving
gas, producing the glow. The bubbles will expand but
eventually disintegrate, according to Hubble scientists.
"The bubble in much brighter on one side of the galaxy's
center because the jets smashed into a denser amount of gas,"
the astronomers said in a statement. The brighter bubble is 800 light years in height and 800 light years in width.
The two color-enhanced pictures were taken in March 1999. Kenney and a colleague presented the images at an American Astronomical Society meeting on Monday.
The Hubble telescope is the premier black hole hunter because
of its ability to measure gas and stars around black holes,
astronomers said. The orbiter has spotted more than 10
monstrous black holes in galaxy centers, bringing the total
of black holes available for study to more than 30.
Preliminary Hubble observations suggest that black
holes co-evolve with their host galaxies, growing to
predictable mass based on the available diet of nearby gas
and stars in galactic centers, said John Kormendy, an astronomer at the University of Texas at Austin.
In the past, some astronomers thought that such black holes formed before galaxies, he said. Kormendy and a colleague reported their findings at the ASA conference in Rochester, New York.
The results could explain why galaxies like the Milky Way,
with comparatively scarce fuel supplies in their centers, have
small central black holes, a few million solar masses, while
giant elliptical galaxies with dense cores house
billion-solar-mass black holes.
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