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News Release 21 of 40

June 5, 2000 10:30 AM (EDT)

News Release Number: STScI-2000-21

Feasting Black Hole Blows Bubbles

June 5, 2000: A monstrous black hole's rude table manners include blowing huge bubbles of hot gas into space. At least, that's the gustatory practice followed by the supermassive black hole residing in the hub of the nearby galaxy NGC 4438. These NASA Hubble Space Telescope images of the galaxy's central region clearly show one of the bubbles rising from a dark band of dust. The other bubble, emanating from below the dust band, is barely visible, appearing as dim red blobs in the close-up picture of the galaxy's hub (the colorful picture at right). The background image represents a wider view of the galaxy, with the central region defined by the white box.

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Q & A: Understanding the Discovery

  1. 1. Why is the black hole blowing bubbles?


  2. These extremely hot bubbles are caused by the black hole's voracious eating habits. The eating machine is engorging itself with a banquet of material swirling around it in an accretion disk (the white region below the bright bubble). Some of this material is spewed from the disk in opposite directions. Acting like high-powered garden hoses, these twin jets of matter sweep out material in their paths. The jets eventually slam into a wall of dense, slow-moving gas, which is traveling at less than 223,000 mph (360,000 kph). The collision produces the glowing material. The bubbles will continue to expand and will eventually dissipate.

 
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Credits: NASA and Jeffrey Kenney and Elizabeth Yale (Yale University)