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  • Royce Holleman
    Dec. 17, 2007 Grey Hautaluoma Headquarters, Washington 202-358-0668 grey.hautaluoma-1@nasa.gov Jennifer Morcone Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 17, 2007
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      Dec. 17, 2007

      Grey Hautaluoma
      Headquarters, Washington

      Jennifer Morcone
      Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.

      Megan Watzke
      Chandra X-ray Center, Cambridge, Mass.

      RELEASE: 07-280

      WASHINGTON - A powerful jet from a super massive black hole is
      blasting a nearby galaxy, according to new findings from NASA
      observatories. This never-before witnessed galactic violence may have
      a profound effect on planets in the jet's path and trigger a burst of
      star formation in its destructive wake.

      Known as 3C321, the system contains two galaxies in orbit around each
      other. Data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory show both galaxies
      contain super massive black holes at their centers, but the larger
      galaxy has a jet emanating from the vicinity of its black hole. The
      smaller galaxy apparently has swung into the path of this jet.

      This "death star" galaxy was discovered through the combined efforts
      of both space and ground-based telescopes. NASA's Chandra X-ray
      Observatory, Hubble Space Telescope, and Spitzer Space Telescope were
      part of the effort. The Very Large Array telescope, Socorro, N.M.,
      and the Multi-Element Radio Linked Interferometer Network (MERLIN)
      telescopes in the United Kingdom also were needed for the finding.

      "We've seen many jets produced by black holes, but this is the first
      time we've seen one punch into another galaxy like we're seeing
      here," said Dan Evans, a scientist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center
      for Astrophysics and leader of the study. "This jet could be causing
      all sorts of problems for the smaller galaxy it is pummeling."

      Jets from super massive black holes produce high amounts of radiation,
      especially high-energy X-rays and gamma-rays, which can be lethal in
      large quantities. The combined effects of this radiation and
      particles traveling at almost the speed of light could severely
      damage the atmospheres of planets lying in the path of the jet. For
      example, protective layers of ozone in the upper atmosphere of
      planets could be destroyed.

      Jets produced by super massive black holes transport enormous amounts
      of energy far from black holes and enable them to affect matter on
      scales vastly larger than the size of the black hole. Learning more
      about jets is a key goal for astrophysical research.

      "We see jets all over the universe, but we're still struggling to
      understand some of their basic properties," said co-investigator
      Martin Hardcastle of the University of Hertfordshire in the United
      Kingdom. "This system of 3C321 gives us a chance to learn how they're
      affected when they slam into something like a galaxy and what they do
      after that."

      The effect of the jet on the companion galaxy is likely to be
      substantial, because the galaxies in 3C321 are extremely close at a
      distance of only about 20,000 light years apart. They lie
      approximately the same distance as Earth is from the center of the
      Milky Way galaxy.

      A bright spot in the Very Large Array and MERLIN images shows where
      the jet has struck the side of the galaxy, dissipating some of the
      jet's energy. The collision disrupted and deflected the jet.

      Another unique aspect of the discovery in 3C321 is how relatively
      short-lived this event is on a cosmic time scale. Features seen in
      the Very Large Array and Chandra images indicate that the jet began
      impacting the galaxy about one million years ago, a small fraction of
      the system's lifetime. This means such an alignment is quite rare in
      the nearby universe, making 3C321 an important opportunity to study
      such a phenomenon.

      It is possible the event is not all bad news for the galaxy being
      struck by the jet. The massive influx of energy and radiation from
      the jet could induce the formation of large numbers of stars and
      planets after its initial wake of destruction is complete.

      The results from Evans and his colleagues will appear in The
      Astrophysical Journal. NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center,
      Huntsville, Ala., manages the Chandra program for the agency's
      Science Mission Directorate. The Smithsonian Astrophysical
      Observatory controls science and flight operations from the Chandra
      X-ray Center in Cambridge, Mass.

      Additional information and images are available at:



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