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Jet Power and Black Hole Assortment Revealed in New Chandra Image

For Release: January 09, 2008

CXC Release

Centurus A
Credit: NASA/CXC/CfA/R.Kraft et al
Press Image and Caption

A dramatic new Chandra image of the nearby galaxy Centaurus A provides one of the best views to date of the effects of an active supermassive black hole. Opposing jets of high-energy particles can be seen extending to the outer reaches of the galaxy, and numerous smaller black holes in binary star systems are also visible.

The image was made from an ultra-deep look at the galaxy Centaurus A, equivalent to more than seven days of continuous observations. Centaurus A is the nearest galaxy to Earth that contains a supermassive black hole actively powering a jet.

A prominent X-ray jet extending for 13,000 light years points to the upper left in the image, with a shorter "counterjet" aimed in the opposite direction. Astronomers think that such jets are important vehicles for transporting energy from the black hole to the much larger dimensions of a galaxy, and affecting the rate at which stars form there.

High-energy electrons spiraling around magnetic field lines produce the X-ray emission from the jet and counterjet. This emission quickly saps the energy from the electrons, so they must be continually reaccelerated or the X-rays will fade out. Knot-like features in the jets detected in the Chandra image show where the acceleration of particles to high energies is currently occurring, and provides important clues to understanding the process that accelerates the electrons to near-light speeds.

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