Credit: NASA/CXC/SAO/H. Marshall et al.

On the trail of a Cosmic Jet

Active galaxies produce tremendous amounts of energy from an extremely small region in the center, a region usually called the nucleus of the galaxy. The process behind this is not very clear, but astronomers think that these active galaxies all contain a supermassive black hole in their centers, which swallows stars and gas clouds and converts gravitational energy to radiation. Often active galaxies show bright, narrow "jets" of emission from their nuclei. One famous example of this is the "quasar" (quasi-stellar radio object) 3C273. A new image of 3C273 by the Chandra X-ray observatory (shown above) shows the active nucleus of the galaxy (in the upper left) as a bright source of X-rays, and shows a narrow jet of X-rays pointing from the nucleus and stretching for hundreds of thousands of lightyears from the quasar. The Chandra image reveals for the first time the presence of faint X-ray emitting material connecting the core of the quasar to the jet. This observation and others like it will help astronomers understand the mysterious powerhouse at the centers of active galaxies.

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Page Author: Dr. Michael F. Corcoran
Last modified November 9, 2000