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Hubble witnesses flaring in jet from black hole

A flare-up in a jet of matter blasting from a monster black hole is giving astronomers an incredible light show.
The outburst is coming from a blob of matter, called HST-1, embedded in the jet, a powerful narrow beam of hot gas produced by a supermassive black hole residing in the core of the giant elliptical galaxy M87. HST-1 is so bright that it is outshining even M87's brilliant core, whose monster black hole is one of the most massive yet discovered.

The glowing gas clump has taken astronomers on a rollercoaster ride of suspense. Astronomers watched HST-1 brighten steadily for several years, then fade, and then brighten again. They say it's hard to predict what will happen next.
NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has been following the surprising activity for seven years, providing the most detailed ultraviolet-light view of the event. Other telescopes have been monitoring HST-1 in other wavelengths, including radio and X-rays. The Chandra X-ray Observatory was the first to report the brightening in 2000. HST-1 was first discovered and named by Hubble astronomers in 1999. The gas knot is 214 light-years from the galaxy's core.
The flare-up may provide insights into the variability of black hole jets in distant galaxies, which are difficult to study because they are too far away. M87 is located 54 million light-years away in the Virgo Cluster, a region of the nearby universe with the highest density of galaxies.

Despite the many observations by Hubble and other telescopes, astronomers are not sure what is causing the brightening. One of the simplest explanations is that the jet is hitting a dust lane or gas cloud and then glows due to the collision. Another possibility is that the jet's magnetic field lines are squeezed together, unleashing a large amount of energy. This phenomenon is similar to how solar flares develop on the Sun and is even a mechanism for creating Earth's auroras.

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