Feeds

Astroboffins probe mysterious 'blazar'

Like looking into a bizarro cosmic blowtorch, seemingly

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

An international team of astronomy brainboxes say they have gained valuable initial insights into the behaviour of faraway, molto weirdo space objects known as "blazars".

NASA concept art of a blazar in action

What a blazar would look like if it wasn't a blazar*.

A blazar, according to the boffins, is like a quasar but, erm, blazier. The theory goes that you have a galaxy with a super-enormous black hole at the centre, with stuff - stars, planets, nebulae, entire interstellar empires etc - falling into it.

In a poorly-understood process, this results in unbelievably vast and powerful fountains of energy blasting out of the top and bottom of the galaxy's centre. These particle blasts are thought to be so outrageously intense that they are visible billions of lightyears away, accounting for the mysterious bright radiation sources known to boffins as "quasars".

A "blazar" is where we on Earth find ourselves looking right down a quasar's energy jet. One such object is the catchily-named PKS 2155-304, located a cool 1.5 billion lightyears away in the southern constellation of Piscis Austrinus.

It seems that a large international alliance of boffins have been collectively peering at the quirky blazar, using a telescope array in Namibia and a NASA satellite scope in orbit.

According to NASA, PKS 2155-304 is hot stuff indeed:

When its jet undergoes a major outburst, as it did in 2006**, the galaxy can become the brightest source in the sky at the highest gamma-ray energies scientists can detect - up to 50 trillion times the energy of visible light.

The blazar is apparently not just hot, but weird. Attempting to describe the strangeness in the skies by referencing things a layman can easily imagine, French astrophysicist Berrie Giebels said:

"It's like watching a blowtorch where the highest temperatures and the lowest temperatures change in step, but the middle temperatures do not."

We used to have a blowtorch that did that all the time; it was better than a juggling monkey.

Quite apart from fascinating blowtorch antics, however, the brainboxes believe they may be on the track of some pukka knowledge here.

"The jets in blazars interact in fairly complicated ways to produce the radiation that we observe," says California-based labcoat Jim Chiang, who worked on the satellite imagery. "These observations may contain the first clues to help us untangle what's really going on deep in the heart of a blazar." ®

Bootnotes

*We are plainly not looking right down the jet here.

**Presumably the outburst actually happened around the year 1,499,997,993 BC and the light of it arrived in 2006. But no matter. (Recall that there's no zero year in the Gregorian calendar before going commental. Also that the distance estimate is wildly approximate, and human life is short.)

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
GRAV WAVE DRAMA: 'Big Bang echo' may have been grit on the scanner – boffins
Exit Planet Dust on faster-than-light expansion of universe
Mine Bitcoins with PENCIL and PAPER
Forget Sudoku, crunch SHA-256 algos
SpaceX Dragon cargo truck flies 3D printer to ISS: Clawdown in 3, 2...
Craft berths at space station with supplies, experiments, toys
NASA rover Curiosity drills HOLE in MARS 'GOLF COURSE'
Joins 'traffic light' and perfect stony sphere on the Red Planet
'This BITE MARK is a SMOKING GUN': Boffins probe ancient assault
Tooth embedded in thigh bone may tell who pulled the trigger
DOLPHINS SMELL MAGNETS – did we hear that right, boffins?
Xavier's School for Gifted Magnetotaceans
Big dinosaur wowed females with its ENORMOUS HOOTER
That's right, Doris, I've got biggest snout in the prehistoric world
Japanese volcano eruption reportedly leaves 31 people presumed dead
Hopes fade of finding survivors on Mount Ontake
That glass of water you just drank? It was OLDER than the SUN
One MEELLION years older. Some of it anyway
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.
The next step in data security
With recent increased privacy concerns and computers becoming more powerful, the chance of hackers being able to crack smaller-sized RSA keys increases.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.
A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.