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Cygnus A Animations
A Tour of Cygnus A
(Credit: NASA/CXC/A. Hobart)
[Runtime: 02:44]

With closed-captions (at YouTube)

A ricocheting jet blasting from a giant black hole has been captured by NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory. Chandra's data reveal the presence of a powerful jet of particles and electromagnetic energy that has shot out from the black hole and slammed into a wall of hot gas, then ricocheted to punch a hole in a cloud of energetic particles, before it collides with another part of the gas wall.

Cygnus A is a large galaxy that sits in the middle of a cluster of galaxies about 760 million light years from Earth. A supermassive black hole at the center of Cygnus A is rapidly growing as it pulls material swirling around it into its gravitational grasp. During this process, some of this material is redirected away from the black hole in the form of a narrow beam, or jet. Such jets can significantly affect how the galaxy and its surroundings evolve.

In a deep observation that lasted 23 days, scientists used Chandra to create a highly detailed map of both the jet and the intergalactic gas, which they used to track the path of the jets from the black hole. The jet expanded after ricocheting and created a hole in a nearby cloud of particles that is between 50,000 and 100,000 light years deep and 26,000 light years wide. For context, the Earth is located about 26,000 light years away from the center of the Milky Way galaxy.

Energy produced by jets from black holes can heat intergalactic gas in galaxy clusters and prevent it from cooling and forming large numbers of stars in a central galaxy like Cygnus A. By studying Cygnus A, scientists can tell more about how jets from black holes interact with their surroundings.

A Quick Look at Cygnus A
(Credit: NASA/CXC/A. Hobart)
[Runtime: 01:08]

Black holes are notorious for pulling things toward them.

But in some cases, black holes can act as powerful engines to blast material away.

One of those black holes is found in Cygnus A, a large galaxy embedded within in a cluster of galaxies.

Cygnus A's black hole is blasting a jet — a tightly-wound column of material — away from it at extremely high speeds.

Astronomers found that his jet ricocheted off a wall of hot gas, then punched a hole in a cloud of energetic particles, leaving behind a gigantic hole.

By studying this kind of behavior, scientists can better understand how black holes affect their surroundings.

Only an X-ray telescope with the sharp vision of NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory could make such a discovery.

Return to Cygnus A (January 9, 2019)