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News 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.


April 23, 2008

This material is available primarily for archival purposes. Telephone numbers or other contact information may be out of date; please see current contact information at media contacts.

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: http://www.nrao.edu/pr/2008/bllac

Additional images, explanations, data sets and even a related song are available at a Web site posted by Marscher: http://www.bu.edu/blazars/BLLac.html

-NSF-

Media Contacts
Joshua A. Chamot, NSF, (703) 292-7730, email: jchamot@nsf.gov
Dave Finley, NRAO, (575) 835-7302, email: dfinley@nrao.edu

Program Contacts
Vernon L. Pankonin, NSF, (703) 292-4902, email: vpankoni@nsf.gov

Principal Investigators
Alan Marscher, Boston University, (617) 353-5029, email: marscher@bu.edu

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