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M87 Jet seen by HST, VLA and Chandra
Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/MIT/H.Marshall et al. Radio: F. Zhou, F.Owen (NRAO), J.Biretta (STScI) Optical: NASA/STScI/UMBC/E.Perlman et al.


Speed Gun

M87 is a giant elliptical galaxy which dominates the Virgo cluster. It's notable for the six billion solar mass black hole that lies at its center. As matter falls into this black hole, the release of gravitational potential energy powers strong jets on either side of the black hole's accretion disk. The image above shows one of the jets in the optical, radio and X-rays. The optical image (from the Hubble Space Telescope), the radio image (from the Very Large Array) and the X-ray image (from the Chandra X-ray Observatory) show similar shapes and structures, in particular bright knots which appear like beads on a string. Astronomers have observed these knots to be moving at six times the speed of light - but this superluminal motion is actually sort of an optical illusion due to the relativistic motion of the matter in the jets (which moves near, but slightly below, the speed of light) coupled with the special orientation of our line-of-sight to the direction of motion. The Chandra data show that the bright X-ray emitting knots are produced by the acceleration of electrons by the magnetic field in the jets, and not by shocks.
Published: July 6, 2009


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Page Author: Dr. Michael F. Corcoran
Last modified Friday, 20-Apr-2012 15:11:21 EDT