In a Different Light: Hercules A

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View Hercules A in various wavelengths of light and explore what can be learned from each. 

Produced by the Space Telescope Science Institute, Office of Public Outreach, in collaboration with NASA’s Universe of Learning partners: Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian, IPAC, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and Sonoma State University.

  • Hubble Space Telescope image: NASA, STScI
  • Janksy Very Large Array image: NSF/NRAO/VLA
  • Chandra X-ray Observatory image: NASA/CXC/SAO
  • Multi-wavelength image: X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO, Optical: NASA/STScI, Radio: NSF/NRAO/VLA 

Writing:  Leah Ramsay
Design: Joe Olmstead
Science review lead: Dr. Quyen Hart
Education lead: Timothy Rhue II
Additional editorial input from: Dr. Rutuparna Das, Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian
Music courtesy of Associated Production Music.


 Text, In A Different Light, Electromagnetic Spectrum. Elliptical Galaxy Hercules-A. Quick Facts. Distance, 1.9 billion light-years. Constellation, Hercules. A bar across the bottom of the screen reads, Radio, Microwave, Infrared, Visible, Ultraviolet, X-ray, Gamma Ray. 

Constellation, Serpens Caput. Text, The constellation Hercules is home to many bright sources of light in the night sky, including one that is much more than meets the eye. Hercules A. 

Constellation, Ophiuchus. Visible is highlighted. 

Text, Centered in a field of galaxies in this visible-light image from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, Hercules A, appears to be a large but unremarkable elliptical galaxy. 

However, observations of the galaxy in other wavelengths of light show it has much more to reveal. 

A purple X-ray photo of Hercules A. The word X-Ray is highlighted. 

Text, The Chandra X-ray Observatory shows a giant cloud of super-heated gas enveloping the galaxy. 

The concentrated X-ray glow at the center of the image indicates an active supermassive black hole at the galaxy's core. 

Heated to millions of degrees by friction and gravitational force, a disk of gas and other material around the black hole emits glaring X-rays. 

A radio photo of the black hole. The word Radio is highlighted. 

Text, The Jansky Very Large Array reveals huge radio-emitting jets of material ejected by the accretion disk around the black hole. 

The jets of high-energy plasma and subatomic particles stream out in opposite directions from the vicinity of the black hole at nearly the speed of light. 

The jets are the brightest radio-emitting object in the constellation Hercules, and one of the brightest in the entire sky. 

The area of the jets closest to the black hole do not appear in the image because they are moving extremely fast. 

Once the jets begin to slow, they become visible in the radio portion of the spectrum. 

The outer portions of the jets show unusual ring structures that suggest a history of multiple outbursts from the supermassive black hole at the center of Hercules A. 

A blue and purple photo of the black hole. The words Radio, Visible, and X-ray are highlighted. 

Text, A composite image in radio, visible, and X-ray wavelengths of light put the giant jets into perspective. 

The jets blasting out from the bright energetic core of Hercules A, stretch approximately 1.7 million light-years across space, far beyond the bounds of their origin galaxy. 

Hercules A, is one of the most dramatic examples of how telescopes work together to reveal the multiwavelength universe.