What in the Universe: M87 Jet

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 What is speeding through space in this time-lapse?

Produced by the Space Telescope Science Institute’s Office of Public Outreach in collaboration with NASA’s Universe of Learning partners: Caltech/IPAC, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, and Sonoma State University.

  • Images of M87 particle jet: NRAO/Walker et al. 
  • Montage zoom into M87: ESO/L. Calçada, Digitized Sky Survey 2, ESA/Hubble, RadioAstron, De Gasperin et al., Kim et al., EHT Collaboration 
  • Visualization of black hole and swirling material: ESO/M. Kornmesser 
  • Animation of black hole with jets:  ESO/M. Kornmesser

Written by Leah Ramsay
Designed by Leah Hustak and Dani Player
Subject matter expertise from Dr. Quyen Hart and Dr. Christopher Britt 
Editorial and design input from Margaret Carruthers and Timothy Rhue II
Music courtesy of Music for Non-Profits 


 Red square against starry sky. Icons, star, galaxy, constellation, asteroid, solar system. Text, what in the universe. 

A time lapse of an object during at least 200 days. 

Text What is speeding through space in these time lapse images? A., particles ejected from around a black hole, B., gas blowing out from a dying star, C., a geyser erupting on an icy moon, D., a comet. 

A is highlighted in grey. 

Text, Particle Jet powered by a black hole, Galaxy M87, Virgo cluster. 

The universe is a dynamic place, but across the vastness of time and space, many changes take too long to observe during a human lifetime. 

However, the giant particle jet billowing from the core of galaxy M87 is a cosmic event that is observable on a human timescale. 

The jet is powered by the supermassive black hole at the heart of the galaxy. 

A black hole's powerful gravity draws in gaseous material, which swirls around its boundary, called the event horizon. 

As material is shredded by a black hole's gravity, energy is produced and released in a fire-hose stream of particles that are accelerated to velocities near the speed of light. 

M87's dynamic core makes it a fascinating testing ground for scientific theories about black holes and how the universe works. Animation.