When black holes shoot their jets directly at Earth

Blazars are a special kind of black hole - the kind with jets that are pointing right towards us! They're white hot and heading our way, but the only way we can spot them is with cool infrared telescopes. Take a look at the black holes that blaze.

The Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, was not designed to look for hot things. Infrared is even cooler than visible light, and just above radio in the elecromagnetic spectrum. And yet it picked up strange infrared signatures in its survey of the sky.

When black holes shoot their jets directly at Earth

Scientists analyzed these signatures and found that they may be the hallmarks of some of the hottest things out there - blazars. Supermassive black holes are generally at the center of galaxies. They gobble down matter around them and shoot out jets of energy from their centers. These jets travel at almost the speed of light. And sometimes, just sometimes, these jets are pointing right at Earth. These holes, oriented with their jets streaming towards Earth, are called Blazars. And while they're tough to spot with telescopes that would actually take in their heat energy, they might stick out like giant jets of sore thumbs on infrared. The WISE mission has found 200 of them, and may find thousands more.

Why look for them at all? Well, it seems that there are these mysterious sections of the skies that seem to be burning up with gamma rays. Scientists, understandably concerned about why certain parts of the sky are suddenly annihilatingly hot, believe that these may be blazars. Even if blazars have nothing to do with the gamma ray rich sections of the sky, taking a look at black holes from 'head on' may help scientists understand why black holes shoot out jets of energy at all. For the rest of us, it might be nice just to know that somewhere out there, about 200 black holes are shining on us like spotlights.

Images: Ron Miller

Via NASA