Right now, three major telescopes are focused on a huge, sustained burst of energy coming from the center of a galaxy 3.8 billion light years away. Astronomers are speculating on what it could be.
On March 28th, Nasa's Swift Telescope recorded a massive burst of X-ray and Gamma Ray enerty coming from the constellation Draco. Large bursts of energy are par for the course in the Universe. They're even fairly common in our own galaxy. This burst was something special. Not only were the bursts around a million times less powerful that was was being observed, they faded away after a few hours. These energy eruptions have kept coming for over a week, as the Hubble telescope and the Chandra X-ray Observatory re-positioned to take a gander at the strange energy.
At last scientists pin-pointed the source of the explosive bursts of energy as coming from a galaxy about 3.8 billion light years away. Specifically, it looks like the energy is coming from the center of the galaxy. Most galaxies, including The Milky Way, harbor a black hole in their center. Scientists believe that a star in the distant galaxy was drawn too close to that galaxy's black hole. The star is being torn apart. As material from the star is being pulled into the black hole, the black hole itself is spinning, and outflowing jets of energy flow from its rotational axis. Whenever the jet turns toward our galaxy, we're met with huge blasts of warm leftover star guts.
When faced with this humbling display of cosmic power, most people have one question; Are we all going to die? Nasa officials are quick to point out that the black hole at the center of the Milky Way is a quiet fellow. Even if it weren't, and sucked a star into itself tomorrow, the jets most likely would not harm anyone on earth. Our planet is far away from the center of the galaxy, and even if it weren't the jets are directed out perpendicularly from the plane of the galaxy itself. Lying, as we do, in the plane of the galaxy, we'd be out of the spray zone.
Image: NASA/Swift/Penn State/J. Kennea
Second Image: NASA/Swift/Stefan Immler