Galaxy M87 Jet (Annotated)
This sequence of images, taken over a 13-year span by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, reveals changes in a black-hole-powered jet of hot gas in the giant elliptical galaxy M87.
The observations show that the river of plasma, traveling at nearly the speed of light, may follow the spiral structure of the black hole's magnetic field, which astronomers think is coiled like a helix. The magnetic field is believed to arise from a spinning accretion disk of material around a black hole. Although the magnetic field cannot be seen, its presence is inferred by the confinement of the jet along a narrow cone emanating from the black hole. The visible portion of the jet extends 5,000 light-years.
M87 resides at the center of the neighboring Virgo cluster of roughly 2,000 galaxies, located 50 million light-years away.
The images are part of a time-lapse movie that reveals changes in the jet over more than a 13-year period. They were taken by Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys in 2006 and Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 in 1995, 1998, 2001, and 2007.