Credit: NASA/DOE/Fermi LAT Collaboration
How does it feel to be looking down the barrel of a cannon? That uncomfortable feeling is what astronomers get when observing the galaxy 3C 454.3, an active galaxy located 7.2 billion light-years away in the constellation Pegasus. This galaxy harbors a supermassive black hole which powers an extremely bright particle beam, which, as it so happens, is directly pointed at earth. The jet is produced when the black hole swallows matter in its vicinity. The jet is variable, brightening and fading due to unknown changes in the amount or manner in which the black hole is feeding. So it's a good idea to keep a sharp eye on 3C 454.3, which is what the Fermi Gamma-Ray Space Telescope has been doing since its launch about 18 months ago. A good thing too, since Fermi has shown that 3C 454.3 has recently flared in brightness. This makes it the brightest Gamma-ray source in the sky, about twice as bright as the brightest Gamma-ray object in the Milky Way, the Vela Pulsar, which is about a million times closer then 3C 454.3. Fortunately we're far enough away that the beam from 3C 454.3 doesn't do much damage; other galaxies aren't so lucky.
Published: December 14, 2009
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Page Author: Dr. Michael F. Corcoran
Last modified Sunday, 20-Dec-2009 21:40:40 EST