Chandra spies structure of huge X-ray jets

October 25, 1999

SIZE="-1">2 MASS
 optical
Photo:AURA/NOAO/NSF


 x-ray
Photo:NASA/CXC/SAO


radio
Photo:NRAO/AUI

Above: Centaurus A as viewed in four different spectra. The brilliant jet so visible in the x-ray is perpendicular to the apparent plane of the galaxy in visible or infrared.

The Chandra X-ray image of Cen A, made with the High Resolution Camera, shows a bright source in the nucleus of the galaxy at the location of the suspected supermassive black hole. The bright jet extending out from the nucleus to the upper left is due to explosive activity around the black hole, which ejects matter at high speeds from the vicinity of the black hole. A "counter jet" extending to the lower right can also be seen. This jet is probably pointing away from us, which accounts for its faint appearance.

One of the most intriguing features of supermassive black holes is that they do not suck up all the matter that falls within their sphere of influence. Some of the matter falls inexorably toward the black hole, and some explodes away from the black hole in high-energy jets that move at near the speed of light. The presence of bright X-ray jets in the Chandra image means that electric fields are continually accelerating electrons to extremely high energies over enormous distances. Exactly how this happens is a major puzzle that Chandra may help to solve.

Dr. Stephen Murray of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics is the principal investigator for the High Resolution Camera. NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, AL, manages the Chandra program. TRW, Inc., Redondo Beach, CA, is the prime contractor for the spacecraft. The Smithsonian's Chandra X-ray Center controls science and flight operations from Cambridge, MA.
-end-


NASA/Marshall Space Flight Center--Space Sciences Laboratory

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