NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has pinpointed the source of one of the most puzzling blasts of high-energy radiation ever observed. It is at the very center of a small, distant galaxy, which appears to be sending a beam of radiation directly toward Earth.
The 3.8-billion-light-year-distant galaxy appears as a bright blob at the center of the Hubble picture.
This observation may support the idea that a supermassive black hole at the core of the galaxy has gravitationally torn apart and swallowed a bypassing star. As the star's gas falls onto the black hole, radiation is ejected along a narrow beam.
On March 28, 2011, NASA's Swift satellite, which looks for transient X-rays and gamma rays, detected the first of a string of powerful bursts of high-energy radiation that has lasted for a week.
More Hubble observations are planned to see if the core changes brightness. An armada of ground- and space-based telescopes is also watching the object from X-ray through radio wavelengths. The Hubble observations were taken in visible and near-infrared light on April 4, 2011, with the Wide Field Camera 3. This Hubble image was taken in visible light.