NASA reports first instance of battle of the galaxies

December 18th, 2007 - 12:34 pm ICT by admin  

Washington, Dec 18 (ANI): New findings from NASA observatories indicate that a powerful jet from a super massive black hole is blasting and damaging a nearby galaxy, with this being the first reported instance of galactic violence.

The observatories that observed the phenomenon were NASAs Chandra X-ray Observatory, Hubble Space Telescope, and Spitzer Space Telescope.

Known as 3C321, the system contains two galaxies in orbit around each other. Though both of them contain super massive black holes at their centers, the smaller galaxy has swung into the path of a radioactive jet emanating from the larger galaxy.

“We’ve seen many jets produced by black holes, but this is the first time we’ve seen one punch into another galaxy like we’re seeing here,” said Dan Evans, a scientist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and leader of the study. “This jet could be causing all sorts of problems for the smaller galaxy it is pummeling,” he added.

Jets from super massive black holes produce high amounts of radiation, especially high-energy X-rays and gamma-rays, which can be lethal in large quantities. The combined effects of this radiation and particles traveling at almost the speed of light could severely damage the atmospheres of planets lying in the path of the jet.

For example, protective layers of ozone in the upper atmosphere of planets could be destroyed.

Jets produced by super massive black holes also transport enormous amounts of energy far from black holes and enable them to affect matter on scales vastly larger than the size of the black hole.

Moreover, the effect of the jet on the companion galaxy is likely to be substantial, because the galaxies in 3C321 are extremely close at a distance of only about 20,000 light years apart. They lie approximately the same distance as Earth is from the center of the Milky Way galaxy.

Another unique aspect of the discovery in 3C321 is how relatively short-lived this event is on a cosmic time scale. Features seen in the Very Large Array and Chandra images indicate that the jet began impacting the galaxy about one million years ago, a small fraction of the system’s lifetime. This means such an alignment is quite rare in the nearby universe, making 3C321 an important opportunity to study such a phenomenon.

But, it is possible the event is not all bad news for the galaxy being struck by the jet. The massive influx of energy and radiation from the jet could induce the formation of large numbers of stars and planets after its initial wake of destruction is complete.

“We see jets all over the universe, but we’re still struggling to understand some of their basic properties,” said co-investigator Martin Hardcastle of the University of Hertfordshire in the United Kingdom. “This system of 3C321 gives us a chance to learn how they’re affected when they slam into something like a galaxy and what they do after that,” he added. (ANI)

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