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Press Release 08-067

Catching a Glimpse of a Black Hole's Fury

New telescope evidence suggests twisted magnetic fields in supermassive black holes cause particle and energy jets to surge out in corkscrews

Artist's conception of the region near a supermassive black hole.

Artist's conception of the region near a supermassive black hole.
Credit and Larger Version

April 23, 2008

Using the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA) and a host of international telescope partners, a team of researchers has made the clearest observation yet of innermost region of a black hole.

From the observations, astronomers found strong evidence that the enormous jets of particles emitted by supermassive black holes are corkscrewed in a way predicted by theory. The researchers believe the coiling is a result of twisted magnetic fields acting on the particle streams.

The researchers reported their findings in the April 24 issue of Nature.

Led by Alan Marscher of Boston University, the international team of researchers studied the galaxy BL Lacertae located 950 million light years from Earth. By observing an outburst from the galaxy from late 2005 to 2006, the team observed bursts of photons oriented in a way predicted by theories about the twisted magnetic fields of black holes.

The VLBA is part of NSF's National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO). A more detailed release--including graphics and a broadcast-quality animation--is available from NRAO at:

Additional images, explanations, data sets and even a related song are available at a Web site posted by Marscher:


Media Contacts
Joshua A. Chamot, NSF, (703) 292-7730,
Dave Finley, NRAO, (575) 835-7302,

Program Contacts
Vernon L. Pankonin, NSF, (703) 292-4902,

Principal Investigators
Alan Marscher, Boston University, (617) 353-5029,

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2016, its budget is $7.5 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 48,000 competitive proposals for funding and makes about 12,000 new funding awards. NSF also awards about $626 million in professional and service contracts yearly.

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