Caught on tape: Death star galaxy

Black hole in a "death star galaxy" seen blasting a neighboring galaxy with a deadly jet of radiation and energy.

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December 19, 2007 09:50
2 minute read.

 
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The latest act of senseless violence caught on tape is cosmic in scope: A black hole in a "death star galaxy" blasting a neighboring galaxy with a deadly jet of radiation and energy. A fleet of space and ground telescopes have captured images of this cosmic violence, which people have never witnessed before, according to a new study released Monday by NASA. "It's like a bully, a black-hole bully punching the nose of a passing galaxy," said astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York, who wasn't involved in the research. But ultimately, this could be a deadly punch. The telescope images show the bully galaxy shooting a stream of deadly radiation particles into the lower section of the other galaxy, which is about one-tenth its size. Both are about 8.2 billion trillion miles from here, orbiting around each other. The larger galaxy has a multi-digit name but is called the "death star galaxy" by one of the researchers who discovered the galactic bullying, Daniel Evans of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Tens of millions of stars, including those with orbiting planets, are likely in the path of the deadly jet, said study co-author Martin Hardcastle of the University of Hertfordshire in the United Kingdom. If Earth were in the way - and it's not - the high-energy particles and radiation of the jet would in a matter of months strip away the planet's protective ozone layer and compress the protective magnetosphere, said Evans. That would then allow the sun and the jet itself to bombard the planet with high-energy particles. And what would that do life on the planet? "Decompose it," Tyson said. "Sterilize it," Evans piped in. The jet attack is relatively new, in deep space time. Hardcastle estimates it's no more than 1 million years old and can stretch on for another 10 to 100 million years. "A truly extraordinary act of violence," Evans said. "The jet violently slams into that lower half of the neighboring galaxy after which the jet dramatically twists and bends." The good news is that eventually an area of hot gas that gets hit and compressed by this mysterious jet - astronomers are still baffled by what's in it and how it works - over millions and billions of years can form stars, Tyson said. NASA, the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in United States and the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom used ground optical and radio telescopes, the Hubble Space Telescope, the Chandra X-ray Observatory, and the infrared Spitzer Space Telescope to get an image of the violence on various wavelengths, including invisible ones. The results will be published in The Astrophysical Journal next year. The two galaxies are only 24,000 light-years apart and are in a slow merging process. The jet has already traveled 1 million light-years. A light-year is about 5.88 trillion miles. Tyson said there are two main lessons to be learned from what the telescopes have found: "This is a reminder that you are not alone in the universe. You are not isolated. You are not an island." And "avoid black holes when you can." ___ On the Net NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory: http://chandra.nasa.gov/

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