Astronomer talks black holes in Boston Globe

Black holes are notoriously bad neighbors, but they usually confine their violence and voracious appetites to the centers of their own galaxies. Now comes evidence that these mind-bending entities may be toughs on an intergalactic scale. NASA released images last week from the Cambridge-based Chandra X-ray Observatory and other telescopes showing for the first time a high energy "jet," or beam, from a black hole striking another galaxy. The power-packed particles - emitted from a supermassive black hole lurking in a galaxy called 3C321 - delivered the cosmic equivalent of a right hook to a smaller galaxy that just happened to be wandering by, say researchers. Scientists branded 3C321 a "death galaxy." Any Earthlike planets caught in the high-radiation jet would have had their atmospheres cooked off and any surface life destroyed, they said. These days, black holes are white hot - studied intensively by astronomers and physicists trying to unravel the universe. Among other things, scientists now believe "primordial" supermassive black holes date to early days of the universe and may have played a fundamental role in forming galaxies. Meanwhile, although black holes are more or less defined by their lock-grip on light, younger black holes formed in the ultra-dense cauldrons of collapsed stars emit quick bursts of brightness visible across the entire universe. This almost unimaginably powerful explosion is called the "birth cry" of a new black hole. "Black holes are fascinating objects that challenge our imaginations, our physics, and our astrophysics," said J. Craig Wheeler, professor of astronomy at the University of Texas at Austin and president of the American Astronomical Society. "We now know they actually exist and can probe their properties," he said.

Boston Globe
Black Holes Not Only Suck in Their Neighbors, They Can Blast Them, Too
(Dec. 24)