By Lee Billings
Marshaling a decade’s worth of data from telescopes around the world, scientists have captured new details of a gargantuan black hole feasting on a hapless star, watching as the black hole consumed its prey and burped out a jet of material moving at a significant fraction of the speed of light. The results are published in the June 14 edition of Science, and could help researchers better understand how black holes grow and influence their galactic surroundings.
“Never before have we been able to directly observe the formation and evolution of a jet from one of these events,” says study co-author Miguel Pérez-Torres of the Institute of Astrophysics of Andalusia in Spain.
The discovery’s first inklings emerged in January 2005, when a team led by astronomer Seppo Mattila of the University of Turku in Finland detected a brilliant pointlike source of infrared light from within Arp 299, a pair of merging galaxies some 150 million light-years from Earth. That July another team led by Pérez-Torres reanalyzing previously gathered data confirmed a bright source of radio waves from the same location.
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