Friday, November 03, 2006

Astronomical Numbers Around a Black Hole

Sometime you run into a number that is just so damn large that it is hard to really comprehend just how big and far reaching that number is. But it is rare that you run into so many of them in one place, specially a place that is describing something real and physically out there and measurable.

MS 0735.6+7421
(click on image to see a high-resolution version)

NASA's recent press release on a "Monstrous Black Hole Blast in the Core of a Galaxy Cluster" simply would not relent. The amazing web of all the staggering numbers involved were tied together with a composite image assembled from instruments on two different spacecraft and an earth-bound radio telescope array. The Hubble Space Telescope's Advances Camera for Surveys was used to take an optical spectrum picture of the cluster of galaxies which are all bound together by gravity and a super-massive Black Hole at its center. More recently, that image was augmented with X-Ray spectrum data from the Chandra Orbiting X-Ray Telescope, and the Very Large Telescope radio sensor array in New Mexico to include the hot interstellar (and intergalactic)gas in such a way that an otherwise invisible blast that spans several GALAXIES has been exposed. Check out all of the astronomical numbers in the NASA release text (I've added the highlights in bold.)

This is a composite image of galaxy cluster MS0735.6+7421, located about 2.6 billion light-years away in the constellation Camelopardus. The image represents three views of the region that astronomers have combined into one photograph. The optical view of the galaxy cluster, taken by the Hubble Space Telescope's Advanced Camera for Surveys in February 2006, shows dozens of galaxies bound together by gravity. Diffuse, hot gas with a temperature of nearly 50 million degrees permeates the space between the galaxies. The gas emits X-rays, seen as blue in the image taken with the Chandra X-ray Observatory in November 2003. The X-ray portion of the image shows enormous holes or cavities in the gas, each roughly 640 light-years in diameter -- nearly seven times the diameter of the Milky Way. The cavities are filled with charged particles gyrating around magnetic field lines and emitting radio waves shown in the red portion of image taken with the Very Large Array telescope in New Mexico in June 1993. The cavities were created by jets of charged particles ejected at nearly light speed from a supermassive black hole weighing nearly a billion times the mass of our Sun lurking in the nucleus of the bright central galaxy. The jets displaced more than one trillion solar masses worth of gas. The power required to displace the gas exceeded the power output of the Sun by nearly ten trillion times in the past 100 million years.
It is simply amazing to me that we can measure and visualize such things directly.

See the original NASA release here.


Anonymous said...

Absolutely awesome. One cannot comprehend such vastness. Phil

Anonymous said...

Yeah, but can you fly all the way through a gas giant? (Sorry for the non-sequitor).