Wolf-Rayet Star “Nasty 1” Transitional Stage in Evolution of Massive Stars

A very rapidly evolving, supermassive star with a newly formed nebula only a few thousand years old


Space news (supermassive stars: Wolf-Rayet stars; star NaSt1) – 3,000 light-years away on the edge of a pancake-shaped disk of gas moving at 22,000 mph – 

Astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope have discovered new clues concerning a nearby supermassive, rapidly aging star they have nicknamed “Nasty 1”. Designated NaSt1 in astronomy catalogs, “Nasty 1” when first discovered decades ago was identified as a non-typical Wolf-Rayet star with an orbiting disk-like structure. A vast disk estimated to be almost 2 trillion miles wide astronomers now think formed due to a companion star snacking on its outer envelope. Putting NaSt1 in a class of Wolf-Rayet stars astronomers haven’t observed often during the human journey to the beginning of space and time. A star type possibly representing a transition stage in the evolution of supermassive stars. 


“We were excited to see this disk-like structure because it may be evidence for a Wolf-Rayet star-forming from a binary interaction,” said study leader Jon Mauerhan of the University of California, Berkeley. “There are very few examples in the galaxy of this process in action because this phase is short-lived, perhaps lasting only a hundred thousand years, while the timescale over which a resulting disk is visible could be only ten thousand years or less.” 

Study leader Jon Mauerhan of the University of California, Berkley. Credit: University of California, Berkley.

In the case of NaSt1, computer simulations show a supermassive star evolving really fast and swelling as it begins to run out of hydrogen. Its outer hydrogen envelope is loosely bound and is gravitationally stripped from the star- astronomers call this process stellar cannibalism – by a more compact, nearby companion star. In the process the more compact star gains mass, while the more massive star loses its hydrogen envelope, exposing its helium core and eventually becoming a Wolf-Rayet star. 

The mass-transfer model is the favored process for how Wolf-Rayet stars evolve at the moment and considering at least 70 percent of supermassive stars detected, so far, are members of binary star system, this seems logical. Astronomers used to think this type of star could also form when a massive sun ejects its hydrogen envelope. But the direct mass loss model by itself can’t account for the number of Wolf-Rayet stars observed relative to less-evolved supermassive suns in the Milky Way.  


“We’re finding that it is hard to form all the Wolf-Rayet stars we observe by the traditional wind mechanism because the mass loss isn’t as strong as we used to think,” said Nathan Smith of the University of Arizona in Tucson, who is a co-author on the new NaSt1 paper. “Mass exchange in binary systems seems to be vital to account for Wolf-Rayet stars and the supernovae they make, and catching binary stars in this short-lived phase will help us understand this process.” 

Co-author of study Nathan Smith of the University of Arizona in Tucson. Credit: The University of Arizona.

Astronomers computer models show that the mass-transfer process isn’t always perfectly efficient. Matter can only transfer from NaSt1 at a certain rate, left over material begins orbiting, creating a disk-like structure. 

“That’s what we think is happening in Nasty 1,” Mauerhan said. “We think there is a Wolf-Rayet star buried inside the nebula, and we think the nebula is being created by this mass-transfer process. So this type of sloppy stellar cannibalism actually makes Nasty 1 a rather fitting nickname.” 

Observing Nasty 1 (star NaSt1) through the clock of gas and dust surrounding this star system hasn’t been easy. The intervening disk-like structure even blocks the view of the Hubble Space Telescope. Scientists haven’t been able to measure the distance between the stars, their mass, or the volume of material transferring to the smaller companion star.  

Astronomers have been able to discover a few items concerning the disk-like structure surrounding Nasty 1. Measurements indicate it’s traveling at around 22,000 mph in the outer nebula, a slower speed than recorded in other stars of this type. Scientists think this indicates a much less energetic supernova than was recorded for other events, like Era Carinae. In this case and other similar stars, the gas in the outer nebula has been recorded in the hundreds of thousands of miles per hour. Nasty 1 could be different supernova animal altogether.  

High atop the Cerro Manqui peak at the Las Campanas Observatory in Chile the twin the Walter Baade Telescope is the first of the twin 6.5-meter Magellan telescopes to be completed. Credit: Ico.cl

Nasty 1 could also lose its outer envelope of hydrogen intermittently. Previous studies in the infrared light provided clues indicating the existence of a dense pocket of hot gas and dust close to the central stars in the region. More recent observations using the Magellan Telescope located at the Las Campanas Observatory in Chile has also detected a bigger pocket of cooler gas and dust possibly indirectly blocking light from these stars. Astronomers think the existence of warm dust in the region implies it formed just recently, perhaps intermittently, as elementally enriched matter from the stellar winds of massive stars collides, mixes, flows away, and cools. Irregular stellar wind strength, the rate at which star NaSt1 loses its outer envelope, could also help explain the observed clumpy structure and gaps noted in the outer regions of the disk.  

Astrophysicists used NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory to measure the hypersonic winds screaming from each star. Readings showed a scorching hot plasma, indicating colliding stellar winds producing high-energy shockwaves that glow in X-rays. This is consistent with previous data collected on other evolving Wolf-Rayet star systems. We’ll get a better view once the outer hydrogen of Nasty 1’s (star NaSt1) depleted, and the mass-transfer process completes. Eventually, the gas and dust in the lumpy, disk-like structure will dissipate, giving us a clearer view of this mysterious binary star system.   


NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory has shown the cosmos is full of objects and events far beyond anything we imagined when we first started the human journey to the beginning of space and time. Credit: NASA/Chandra

Nasty 1’s still evolving!

“What evolutionary path the star will take is uncertain, but it will definitely not be boring,” said Mauerhan. “Nasty 1 could evolve into another Eta Carinae-type system. To make that transformation, the mass-gaining companion star could experience a giant eruption because of some instability related to the acquiring of matter from the newly formed Wolf-Rayet. Or, the Wolf-Rayet could explode as a supernova. A stellar merger is another potential outcome, depending on the orbital evolution of the system. The future could be full of all kinds of exotic possibilities depending on whether it blows up or how long the mass transfer occurs, and how long it lives after the mass transfer ceases.” 

Astronomers continue to study Nasty 1 and its peculiar, unusual disk-like structure looking for clues to explain the mysteries surrounding its origin. 

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A Lonely, Wandering Hermit of a Galaxy

Tells astronomers a thing or two about star birth throughout the cosmos 

A mysterious hermit

Space news (astrophysics: irregular dwarf galaxies; the formation of new stars) – a lonely, undefined looking galaxy an estimated 4.2 million light-years from Earth, approximately 2.3 million light-years from Leo A –  

The Sagittarius Dwarf Irregular Galaxy (SagDIG) is a metal-poor galaxy from the dawn of the cosmos. Almost as old as the universe, SagDIG is showing us things about the evolution of everything we see during our journey to the beginning of space and time. Spanning about 1,500 light-years, this ancient star wanderer is about 3.5 million light-years distant toward the constellation Sagittarius.

Astronomers think the chaotic, unusual looking smaller island universe seen in the Hubble Space Telescope image here hasn’t merged with any other galaxies lately. Classified as an irregular dwarf galaxy, UGC 4879 has no obvious form and lacks the magnificent whirl of a spiral galaxy or the coherence of an elliptical. Approximately 1.36 million parsecs from Earth this lonely, wandering hermit of a galaxy is showing astronomers new, interesting things about star birth in the universe

Irregular dwarf galaxy Leo A seen here has a much more complicated formation history than astronomers first thought. The simple structure astrophysicists were expecting isn’t what we see here. Instead, Leo A shows hints of an evolution just as chaotic and unpredictable as larger island universes. 

Spectral data of UGC 4879 indicates radial velocities for different sections of the galaxy, which could indicate the presence of a stellar disk. This lonely, isolated wanderer is studied closely and intensely by astronomers because of its history of few interactions with other galaxies. This isolation makes it less complicated to piece together its history of star birth and an ideal laboratory for study. 

Dwarf irregular galaxy NGC 1569 seen here underwent a brief starburst period about 25 million years ago. Hidden within the chaos are monstrous, gigantic supermassive stars and envelopes of gas expelled by huge stars that recently went supernova. Only 11 million light-years away in the long-necked constellation Camelopardalis and spanning 8,000 light-years, the blue, white hot young stars within are perfect for study. Credit: NASA/ESA/STScI/Hubble Heritage

Study of UGC 4879 indicates during the first 4 billion years after the beginning of the universe new stars were being born at a pretty fast rate. The next nine billion years of relative inactivity followed by a recent starburst about 1 billion years ago is a puzzle for astronomers. They continue to study this hermit of a galaxy hoping to find out more about both its history and the complex riddles of sun birth across the cosmos.  

Irregular dwarf galaxy NGC 4449 seen here is undergoing an intense period of starburst, with young, blue-white stars being created at an amazing rate and pinkish star forming regions in this deep colour image. Only 12.5 million light-years away in Canes Venatici, the constellation of the Hunting Dogs, NGC 4449’s the first such galaxy to have an identified star stream in the lower right composed mainly of supermassive red giant stars. These types of galaxies are thought to have a significant dark matter halo, which is a chance for astronomers to study the dark side’s role in the evolution and formation of galaxies. Credit: NASA/ESA/STScI 

Read about one of the most massive black holes ever discovered residing in a backwater part of the cosmos.

For the first time in space history the first moments of a supernova caught in visible light.

Read about Chandra observing the supermassive black hole in galaxy Pictor A having a little meal.

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New Evidence Suggests Some Early Supermassive Black Holes Formed During the Direct Collapse of a Gas Cloud


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Combined data from Spitzer, Hubble and the Chandra X-ray Observatory were used to create this illustration of the direct collapse of a gas cloud into a supermassive black hole. Credit: NASA/Chandra/Spitzer/Hubble/ESA.

The seed out of which some of these mysterious, lurking monsters were born

Space news (astrophysics: black hole formation: early black holes) – supermassive black holes scattered around the observable universe – 

Astronomers believe and data suggests at the center of nearly all large galaxies, including the Milky Way, lurks a supermassive black hole with millions and even billions of times the mass of our sun. Gigantic black holes that in some cases formed less than a billion years after the birth of the cosmos. For the first time, they have uncovered evidence suggesting some of these early supermassive black holes formed directly during the collapse of a giant gas cloud. A finding making astronomers rethink current theories on the formation of these enigmatic, invisible monsters.


This illustration shows a supermassive black hole at the core of a galaxy far, far away. Light skimming past the event horizon (black area) is stretched and distorted like light hitting a fun house mirror.Credits: NASA, ESA, and D. Coe, J. Anderson, and R. van der Marel (STScI)

“Our discovery, if confirmed, explains how these monster black holes were born,” said Fabio Pacucci of Scuola Normale Superiore (SNS) in Pisa, Italy, who led the study. “We found evidence that supermassive black hole seeds can form directly from the collapse of a giant gas cloud, skipping any intermediate steps.”


This Hubble Space Telescope’s spectrograph image shows a zig-zag pattern representing rapidly rotating gas (880, 000 mph) within 26 light-years of the supermassive black hole at the core of galaxy M84. Credit: NASA/ESA/Hubble.

Intermediate steps like the formation of a supermassive star and its subsequent destruction during a supernova. Evidence to date suggests black holes are formed during this process and then supermassive black holes are produced by mergers between black holes. But this new finding suggests things get a little weirder than first thought. Maybe things are weirder than we could ever imagine. It could be the first supermassive black holes seeds were intermediate mass black holes, monsters in the 20,000 solar mass range. Watch this YouTube video on black hole formation.


Within the inset region in this composite Hubble and Chandra X-ray image is shown the Monster of the Milky Way -Sagittarius A- A 4 million solar mass supermassive black hole astronomers believe lurks at the core of the Milky Way’s nuclear star cluster. Credit: NASA/ESA/Chandra/Hubble.

Imagine the volume of a gas cloud capable of contracting directly into an object tens times, or more, the mass of Sol. Black hole seeds built up by drawing in cold gas and dust appear to have formed within the first billion years of the cosmos. Maybe once they confirm the existence of the two black hole seeds they think they detected. They can try to get some data on the mass of these early black hole seeds. At the moment, no mass data is available. Watch this YouTube video on black hole seeds.

This artist’s conception of an estimated 20 million solar mass supermassive black hole at the core of one of the smallest, densest galaxies ever discovered during the human journey to the beginning of space and time. 

The forming of a supermassive black hole directly from the collapse of a massive cloud of gas seems even weirder than the observed formation process for supermassive black holes. But we’re not in Kansas anymore, so anything could theoretically be possible. I am certain, things are even weirder than we can imagine.

This artist’s conception of two supermassive holes entwined in a death spiral destined to end in the birth of a bigger version of the two monsters is called WISE J233237.05-505643.5. At 3.8 billion light-years this is one of the most distant suspected supermassive black holes binary systems detected. Credit: NASA/ESA/STScI.

“There is a lot of controversy over which path these black holes take,” said co-author Andrea Ferrara, also of SNS. “Our work suggests we are narrowing in on an answer, where the black holes start big and grow at the normal rate, rather than starting small and growing at a very fast rate.”

A black hole located in the middle of the spiral galaxy NGC 4178
The inset image in this Chandra X-ray Observatory image of spiral galaxy NGC 4178 shows an X-ray source at the location of a suspected 200,000 solar mass supermassive black hole. This monster is one of the lowest mass supermassive black holes ever detected at the core of a galaxy. Astronomers are studying this supermassive black hole closely since its also located in a galaxy not expected to host such a monster. All of the data collected seems to indicate a slightly different origin, which makes astronomers a little curious. Drredit: NASA/ESA/ Chandra/.

The team used computer models of the formation of black hole seeds combined with new techniques and methods to identify two possible candidates for early supermassive black holes in long-exposure Hubble, Chandra, and Spitzer images. The data collected on these two candidates matches the theoretical profile expected and estimates of their age suggest they formed when the cosmos was less than a billion years old. But more study is needed to verify the data and existence of these theoretical early black hole seeds.


Astronomers recently detected the Monster of the Milky Way -Sagittarius A- snacking on material passing too close, possibly an asteroid. The resulting X-ray flares detected in September 2013 were the largest ever recorded during the human journey to the beginning of space and time, so far. Credit: NASA/ESA/Chandra.

“Black hole seeds are extremely hard to find and confirming their detection is very difficult,” said Andrea Grazian, a co-author from the National Institute for Astrophysics in Italy. “However, we think our research has uncovered the two best candidates to date.”


Astronomers combined X-ray data from Chandra with microwave and visible images to reveal jets and radio-emitting lobes emanating from the 55 million solar mass central supermassive black hole in galaxy Centaurus A (NGC 5128). Credit: NASA/ESA/Chandra.

What’s next?

The team plans additional observations to see if these two candidates have other properties of black hole seeds as computer simulations predict. Real evidence to prove or disprove their early supermassive black hole formation theory might have to wait for a few years. Until the James Webb Space Telescope, European Extremely Large Telescope and other assets come online. The team and other astronomers are currently designing the theoretical framework needed to interpret future data and pinpoint the existence of some of the first supermassive black holes ever to exist. Watch this YouTube video on the jet of Centaurus A.


This optical/radio composite image shows the vast radio-emitting lobes of Centaurus A in orange extending nearly a million light-years from the galaxy. The image of the right here shows the inner 4.16 light-years of the jet and counter-jet of this estimated 55 million solar mass monster. Credit: NASA.

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Kepler Captures Supernova Shockwave in Visible Light

Mining of Kepler space mission data reveals “supernova’s shockwave” in visible light


Space news (massive supernovae) – 1.2 billion light-years from Earth –

An international team of scientists at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana mining three years of Kepler Space Telescope data for massive supernovae discovered something never seen during the human journey to the beginning of space and time. Buried in the Kepler data Peter Garnavich and team observed for the first time the brilliant flash of a massive supernova’s shockwave in visible light as it reached the surface of the exploding star.

NASA scientists Peter Garnavich. Credit: NASA

“In order to see something that happens on timescales of minutes, like a shock breakout, you want to have a camera continuously monitoring the sky,” said Garnavich. “You don’t know when a supernova is going to go off, and Kepler’s vigilance allowed us to be a witness as the explosion began.”

Garnavich’s the leader of the Kepler Extragalactic Survey (KEGS) research team, which is currently mining NASA’s Kepler K2 mission data looking for massive supernovae. NASA’s repurposed planet hunter is expected to detect around a dozen more events during its mission to capture the light from hundreds of distant galaxies and trillions of stars.

The diagram illustrates the brightness of a supernova event relative to the sun as it unfolds. For the first time, a supernova shockwave has been observed in the optical wavelength or visible light as it reaches the surface of the star. This early flash of light is called a shock breakout. 

Astronomers call the brilliant flash of a supernova’s shockwave “a shock breakout”. This event only lasts around twenty minutes in the cases observed, so catching the flash as it happens is truly a milestone for astronomers studying supernovae. By piecing together individual moments of a supernova astronomers hope to learn more about the history of chemical complexity and the evolution of life.

“All heavy elements in the universe come from supernova explosions. For example, all the silver, nickel, and copper in the earth and even in our bodies came from the explosive death throes of stars,” said Steve Howell, project scientist for NASA’s Kepler and K2 missions at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley. “Life exists because of supernovae.”

NASA scientist Steve Howell. Credit: NASA

Massive supernovae and their less energetic brothers are the seeds of chemical complexity in the cosmos, spreading the elements of creation across the breadth of the universe. Understanding the physics behind these titanic events can help tell us how these elements of creation were spread across the universe.

Kepler observes two massive supernovae

The Kepler Space Telescope observed a type II supernova shockwave in visible light as it broke the surface of the star for the first time in history as supermassive red giant KSN 2011d went supernova in 2011. Containing roughly 500 times the mass of Sol, this supermassive star at the moment the shockwave from the supernova reached its surface was 130,000,000 times brighter than the Sun. Continuing to explode and grow, the star eventually reached a maximum brightness over 1 billion times greater than Sol 14 days later.

This artist’s conception of the repurposed Kepler K2 spacecraft. Credit. NASA/Kepler K2

The Kepler Space Telescope also observed a second type II supernova in 2011. Red super massive star KSN 2011a contains 300 times as much mass as Sol and occupies a volume of space that would easily engulf the orbit of Earth around the Sun. Only 700 million light-years from Earth, astronomers weren’t able to observe a shock breakout in the data for this supernova, but they think it might be due to gas masking the shockwave as it reached the surface of the star.

“That is the puzzle of these results,” said Garnavich. “You look at two supernovae and see two different things. That’s maximum diversity.”

“While Kepler cracked the door open on observing the development of these spectacular events, K2 will push it wide open observing dozens more supernovae,” said Tom Barclay, senior research scientist and director of the Kepler and K2 guest observer office at Ames. “These results are a tantalizing preamble to what’s to come from K2!”

Drawing of Tom Barclay. Credit: Tom Barclay.com

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Barred Spiral Galaxy NGC 4394

One of the most common types of island universes viewed during our journey

Space news (The Hubble Tuning Fork: barred spiral galaxies) – 55 million light-years from Earth toward the constellation of Coma Berenices (Berenice’s Hair) –

Hubble spies NGC 4394
These arms are peppered with young blue stars, dark filaments of cosmic dust, and bright, fuzzy regions of active star formation. At the centre of NGC 4394 lies a region of ionised gas known as a LINER. LINERs are active regions that display a characteristic set of emission lines in their spectra

First documented in the western world by German-British astronomer William Herschel, barred spiral galaxy NGC 4394 is a member of the most common type of galaxy viewed in the Galaxy Zoo. Estimated by astronomers to be 55 million light-years from Sol, toward the constellation of Coma Berenices, this island universe is considered a member of the Virgo Cluster. 

The prototypical barred spiral galaxy, NGC 4394 has bright spiral arms sprouting from the ends of a bar cutting through its middle bulge. Sprinkled with blue, young stars its spiral arms contain fuzzy regions where stars are being formed and dark filaments of cosmic dust. Near the center of this island universe lies a region of ionized gas known as a low-ionization nuclear emission-line region (LINER). An active region displaying a specific set of emission lines in its spectra, a LINER contains mainly weakly ionized atoms of oxygen, nitrogen, and sulfur.

LINERS have been viewed relatively often during the human journey to the beginning of space and time and they’re starting to piece together their puzzle. Astronomers still need to figure out where the energy comes from to ionize the gas. Presently astronomers believe it could be due to the influence of the supermassive black hole or extreme levels of star formation. In the case of NGC 4394, gas from a nearby galaxy has likely flowed into its central region, providing a new source to fuel the process, either way.

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Supermassive Black Hole in Small Galaxy NGC 5195 Burps After a Meal

Producing a super powerful blast observed by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory

The main panel of this graphic shows M51 in visible light data from the Hubble Space Telescope (red, green, and blue). The box at the top of the image outlines the field of view by Chandra in the latest study, which focuses on the smaller component of M51, NGC 5195. The inset to the right shows the details of the Chandra data (blue) of this region. Researchers found a pair of arcs in X-ray emission close to the center of the galaxy, which they interpret as two outbursts from the galaxy’s supermassive black hole (see annotated image for additional information). Credits: NASA/Chandra

Space news (February 22, 2016) – 26 million light-years from Earth, deep within the Messier 51 galaxy system – 

Astronomers using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory recently caught the supermassive black hole in galaxy NGC 5195 burping after a meal composed of gas and maybe even stars. This giant black hole is one of the closest to Earth that’s currently erupting violent blasts of X-rays. Studying these violent outbursts presents an opportunity to learn more about the processes creating some of the most energetic events observed in the cosmos. 

“For an analogy, astronomers often refer to black holes as ‘eating’ stars and gas.  Apparently, black holes can also burp after their meal,” said Eric Schlegel of The University of Texas at San Antonio, who led the study. “Our observation is important because this behavior would likely happen very often in the early universe, altering the evolution of galaxies. It is common for big black holes to expel gas outward, but rare to have such a close, resolved view of these events.” 

A smaller companion galaxy, NGC 5195 is currently merging with a larger spiral galaxy NGC 5194 (The Whirlpool). Astronomers believe this ongoing merger was the trigger for the two arcs of X-ray emission they originally detected near its center. The energy released as the supermassive black hole expelled material outward into the cosmos would be sufficient to produce the X-ray arcs detected. Material that was part of the original gas that was funneled toward the supermassive black hole as the two galaxies interacted over millions of years would suffice. 

“We think these arcs represent fossils from two enormous blasts when the black hole expelled material outward into the galaxy,” said co-author Christine Jones of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) in Cambridge, Mass. “This activity is likely to have had a big effect on the galactic landscape.” 

Astronomers followed up the original observations of these arcs by Chandra using the 0.9-meter telescope at the Kitt Peak National Observatory. They detected a slender region of emission of relatively cool hydrogen gas in an optical image suggesting X-ray emitting gas swept up hydrogen gas from the center of the galaxy. Scientists call this phenomenon by which a supermassive black hole changes its host galaxy “feedback”. 

In the case of the X-ray glowing arcs astronomers observed coming from the region of the supermassive black hole in the center of companion galaxy NGC 5195. Scientists believe the outer arc plowed up enough gas and material to start the formation of new stars over a period of three to six million years. This points to the “feedback” phenomenon being a process of creation in the universe, not just massive destruction.  

“We think that feedback keeps galaxies from becoming too large,” said co-author Marie Machacek of CfA. “But at the same time, it can be responsible for how some stars form. This shows that black holes can create, not just destroy.” 

Astrophysicists also want to study the blasts emanating from near the supermassive black hole because of their location in galaxy NGC 5195. In previously detected active supermassive black holes in other galaxies, rapid outflows haven’t been detected in regions this far out. It could be possible we’re viewing an intermediate stage in the feedback process operating between the black hole and interstellar gas. 

Study continues

Scientists will continue to study the powerful blasts coming from the supermassive black hole at the center of galaxy NGC 5195. This will allow them to gain knowledge on how these massive blasts change the environment of their home galaxy. It will also allow them to study how these powerful blasts would alter the evolution of a galaxy.  

Take a video tour of dwarf galaxy NGC 5195 aboard the Chandra X-ray Observatory here.

Read about the recent observation of gravitational waves by astronomers using the Chandra X-ray Observatory. 

Learn more about the youngest, nearby black hole candidate.

Learn more about mysterious ripples astronomers detected moving across the planet-forming region of a star.

We’ll update you if they detect any after burps from the supermassive black hole. 

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NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory Views Blast from Material Falling into Supermassive Black Hole at Center of Galaxy Pictor A

Powerful beams of radiation continually shooting across 300,000 light-years of spacetime

This new composite image of the beam of particles was obtained by combining X-ray data (blue) from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory at various times over a fifteen year period and radio data from the Australian Telescope Compact Array (Red). Astronomers gain understanding and knowledge of the true nature of these amazing jets by studying and analyzing details of the structure of X-ray and radio data obtained.
Image credit: NASA/JPL/Chandra

Image caption: This new composite image of the beam of particles was obtained by combining X-ray data (blue) from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory at various times over a fifteen year period and radio data from the Australian Telescope Compact Array (Red). Astronomers gain understanding and knowledge of the true nature of these amazing jets by studying and analyzing details of the structure of X-ray and radio data obtained. Image credit: NASA/JPL/Chandra

Space news (February 25, 2016) – 500 million light-years away in the constellation Pictor –

The stunning Chandra X-ray image of radio galaxy Pictor A seen here shows an amazing jet that reminds one of the death rays from Star Wars emanating from a black hole in the center of the galaxy. The “Death Star” as portrayed in the Star Wars movie Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope was capable of totally destroying a planet using powerful beams of radiation. In just the same any planet finding itself in the direct path of the 300,000 light-years long, continuous jet emanating from the supermassive black hole in the center of a galaxy is toast.

Astronomers think the stunning jet observed is produced by huge amounts of gravitational energy released as material swirls toward the pointofnoreturn in the gravity well of the supermassive black hole at its center the event horizon. These jets are an enormous beam of particles traveling at nearly the speed of light into the vastness of intergalactic space scientists call relativistic jets. 

Astronomers also report additional data confirming the existence of another jet pointing in the opposite direction to the jet seen in this image that they call a counter jet. Data had previously pointed to the existence of a counter jet and the latest Chandra data obtained confirmed this. Unfortunately, due to the motion of this opposite jet away from the line-of-sight to Earth, it’s very faint and hard for even Chandra to observe. 

Image caption: The labeled image seen here shows the location of the supermassive black hole and both jet and counter jet. The radio lobe label is where the jet pushes into surrounding gas and hotspot produced by shock waves near the tip of the jet. Image credit: NASA/JPL?ESA
The labeled image seen here shows the location of the supermassive black hole and both jet and counter-jet. The radio lobe label is where the jet pushes into surrounding gas and hotspot produced by shock waves near the tip of the jet.
Image credit: NASA/JPL?ESA

Current theories and computer simulations indicate the continuous X-ray emissions observed by Chandra could be produced by electrons spiraling around magnetic field lines in a process astronomers call synchrotron emission. They’re still trying to figure out how electrons could be continuously accelerated as they travel the length of the jet. But plan additional observations in the future to obtain more data to help develop new theories and computer simulations to explain this. 

Watch this YouTube video on Pictor A.

We’ll update you on any new developments and theories on jets emanating from supermassive black holes at the center of nearby galaxies as they’re developed.

You can learn more about jets emanating from supermassive black holes here.

Follow the journey of the Chandra X-ray Observatory here.

Learn more about relativistic jets here.

Read about astronomers recent discovery that superstar binaries like Eta Carinae are more common than first thought.

Read about the Nebra Sky Disk, a 3,600-year-old bronze disk, archaeoastronomers believe is the oldest known astronomical clock ever discovered.

Read and observe the hydrocarbon dunes of Saturn’s moon Titan.