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'Death Star' black hole blasts out killer beam into space


Scott Sutherland
Meteorologist/Science Writer

Sunday, May 31, 2015, 3:19 PM - Hubble tracks the deadly beam of an active black hole, how a "rubber ducky" comet forms, and more amazing views from the International Space Station. It's Science Pics of the Week!

"Death Star" Black Hole Beam

The Hubble Space Telescope has been up in orbit for over 25 years now, and it's revealed to us some amazing parts of the universe.

In addition to beautiful imagery of planets, stars, nebulae and galaxies, the telescope has also shown us the dangers out there as well. Pictured below is an immense jet beaming out of the core of an "active galaxy", which reaches thousands of light years out into space.


Credit: NASA, ESA, and E. Meyer (STScI)

According to Hubblesite.org:

One of the trademarks of the Star Wars film episodes is the dreaded Death Star battle station that fires a beam of directed energy powerful enough to blow up planets. The real universe has such fireworks, and they are vastly more powerful than the Star Wars creation. These extragalactic jets are tearing across hundreds of light-years of space at 98 percent the speed of light. Instead of a battle station, the source of the killer beam is a supermassive black hole weighing many million or even a billion times the mass of our sun. Energy from the spinning black hole, and its titanic magnetic fields, shape a narrow jet of gas blasting out a galaxy's center.
Hubble has been used over the past 25 years to photograph and rephotograph a jet blasting out the heart of the elliptical galaxy 3C 264 (also known as NGC 3862). Hubble's sharp vision reveals that the jet has a string-of-pearls structure of glowing knots of material. When these images were assembled into a time-lapse movie, they reveal - to the surprise of astronomers - a faster-moving bright knot rear-ending the bright knot in front of it. The resulting shock collision further accelerates particles that produce a focused beam of deadly radiation. The jet is moving so fast toward us it gives the illusion that it is traveling faster than the speed of light.

WATCH BELOW: An animation of the stills taken over the past 25 years by Hubble shows the progression of the shock collision.

This black hole's extreme distance from us - 260 million light-years from Earth - means that it is no danger to us. Even if it was to eventually reach a distance of 260 million light years, the beam is directed off to the side, away from our planet, so it would never have an impact on us here.

How A Comet Ends Up Looking Like a Rubber Ducky

As the ESA's Rosetta spacecraft drew closer to its target last year, the unusual shape of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko came as a surprise to astronomers and scientists. With two lobes - one small and one large - joined at a narrow contact point, it resembled a rubber ducky tumbling through space.

Now, a research team from the National Centre of Competence in Research PlanetS, at the University of Bern, in Switzerland, has completed a run of different collision simulations, and they've shown just how this unusual shape could have come about.

WATCH BELOW: This PlanetS simulation shows two icy spheres striking a mutual glancing blow, with the collision slowing the objects, allowing their mutual gravity to draw each other in to form the two-lobed shape.

According to PlanetS:

In a video sequence based on a computer simulation two icy spheres with a diameter of about one kilometer are moving towards each other. They collide at bicycle speed, start mutually rotating and separate again after the smaller body has left traces of material on the larger one. The time sequence shows that the smaller object is slowed down by mutual gravity. After about 14 hours it returns back to reimpact a day after the first collision. The two bodies finally merge to form one body that somehow looks familiar: The bi-lobed frame resembles the shape of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko imaged by ESA’s Rosetta mission.

To see more of Comet 67P, check out the ESA's Rosetta mission blog.

Amazing Night Shots From Space

From the International Space Station, astronauts are afforded an incredible view of our planet. Fortunately, they've been nice enough to provide us with daily glimpses of what they see out their windows as they circle the Earth.

Sources: HubbleSite | PlanetS | Samantha Cristoforetti | Terry Virts

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