Watch a Superfast Jet of Gas Burst from a Massive Black Hole

May 27, 2015

If you thought the destructive laserlike beams from Star Wars' Death Star were just a figment of George Lucas's imagination, think again-- beams of energy powerful enough to cross galaxies are real, and the Hubble Space Station just got a video of one.

You're watching an extragalactic jet of gas traveling at 98% the speed of light, launched from a massive black hole that could weigh a billion times the mass of the sun. The gaseous stream formed by the magnetic fields of the enormous black hole looks almost like a laser, but photos taken by the Hubble Space Telescope reveal that the jet is actually made of multiple globes of material strung together like pearls.

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When Eileen Meyer of the Space Telescope Science Institute put these images together into a time lapse, she discovered that each globe was rear-ending the one in front of it, creating a shock collision that further accelerates the particles into a beam of radiation, and causes them to brighten.

"Something like this has never been seen before in an extragalactic jet," Meyer said in a statement. "This will allow us a very rare opportunity to see how the kinetic energy of the collision is dissipated into radiation."

But this beam of radiation is coming from a host galaxy 260 million light-years away, which means we're seeing it as it looked before the dinosaurs existed.

See the 50 Best Photos Taken by Hubble

Pillars of Creation
Pillars of Creation: Originally taken on April 1, 1995, this image has become one of the most iconic to come from the Hubble Telescope. This version, released in 2015, shows a higher resolution image of the region. The pillars are part of a small region of the Eagle Nebula, a vast star-forming region 6,500 light-years from Earth. Image released in Jan. 2015NASA/ESA/Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)
Pillars of Creation
Cat's Eye Nebula
Horsehead Nebula
Galaxy M106
The Crab Nebula
Hubble's Sharpest View of the Orion Nebula
The Hourglass Nebula
The Butterfly Nebula
New Hubble image of NGC 2174
Sharpest ever view of the Andromeda Galaxy
Jupiter's Eye
The Sombrero Galaxy
Interacting Galaxies Arp 273
Barred Spiral Galaxy NGC 1300
The Ring Nebula
Carina Nebula
V838 Monocerotis
Spiral Galaxy NGC 2841
Planetary Nebula NGC 5189
The Carina Nebula: Star Birth in the Extreme
The Most Colorful View of the Universe
Spectacular Hubble view of Centaurus A
spiral galaxy M100
SNR 0509
Southern Pinwheel, M83
Colorful Stars Galore Inside Globular Star Cluster Omega Centauri
NGC 3603
Hubble Observes Infant Stars in Nearby Galaxy
Sharpless 2-106 Hubble
A Reflection Nebula in Orion
Comet Ison
Pismis 24 Hubble
Nucleus of Galaxy Centaurus A
The Whirlpool Hubble
Abell 370
Double Cluster NGC 1850
Cone Nebula
Pleiades Hubble
Turquoise-tinted plumes in the Large Magellanic Cloud
30 Doradus Hubble
Hubble's First Observation Of Jupiter
Mars Hubble
NGC 4603
The Eskimo Nebula NGC 2392 Hubble
The Signature of a Supermassive Black Hole M84 Hubble
The Tadpole Hubble
Pillars of Creation: Originally taken on April 1, 1995, this image has become one of the most iconic to come from the Hu

NASA/ESA/Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)
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