An artist's rendition of the region around galaxy NGC 1068, as seen from the edge of the disk surrounding the core's black hole, shows the red and blue radiation jets above and below the disk. Blue light is moving toward the viewer, while red light is receding.

Astronomers see
movement in
distant galaxy

New technology on a Mauna Kea
telescope enables the sighting

By Rod Thompson

HILO >> A new viewing technique has allowed the Gemini North telescope on Mauna Kea to watch the movement of matter inside a galaxy 70 million light-years away.

The technique not only allows astronomers to see what is going on, but to create a "movie" of the action in galaxy NGC 1068.

Gemini North Associate Director Jean-Rene Roy described seeing a jet of matter from a black hole shooting out, hitting surrounding dust and gas, and creating an area of compression called a bow shock.

"For the first time we were able to clearly see the jet's expanding lobe as its hypersonic bow shock slams directly into the underlying gas disk of the galaxy. It's like a huge wave smashing onto a galactic shoreline," Roy said last week.

The device making this possible is an Integral Field Unit, which looks at the range of colors called spectra, according to a Gemini news release.

Normal spectra give limited information about a general area, said Gemini North spokesman Peter Michaud. The new device allows astronomers to see individual spectra at more than a thousand points in an area under observation, he said.

Each point gives information about whether that spot is moving toward the viewer or away, he said.

By using the multiple points, astronomers can build up a moving picture of the area they are studying.

"By using integral field spectroscopy, we add dimensions to the data and can essentially make a movie with one click of the shutter," said Bryan Miller, a Gemini instrument scientist.

"When we play back our movie of the galaxy NGC 1068, we see a three-dimensional view of the core of this galaxy. It's striking how much easier it is to interpret features with this kind of data," he said.

Gemini Observatory

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