ID: 11947

Fermi Spots a Record Flare from Blazar 3C 279

Five billion years ago, a great disturbance rocked a region near the monster black hole at the center of galaxy 3C 279. On June 14, the pulse of high-energy light produced by this event finally arrived at Earth, setting off detectors aboard NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope and other satellites. Astronomers around the world turned instruments toward the galaxy to observe this brief but record-setting flare in greater detail.

3C 279 is a famous blazar, a galaxy whose high-energy activity is powered by a central supermassive black hole weighing up to a billion times the sun's mass and roughly the size of our planetary system. As matter falls toward the black hole, some particles race away at nearly the speed of light along a pair of jets pointed in opposite directions. What makes a blazar so bright is that one of these particle jets happens to be aimed almost straight at us.

The brightest persistent source in the gamma-ray sky is the Vela pulsar, which is about 1,000 light-years away. 3C 279 is millions of times farther off, but during this flare it became four times brighter than Vela. This corresponds to a tremendous energy release, and one that cannot be sustained for long.

The galaxy rapidly brightened in less than a day, peaked on June 16, and dimmed to normal gamma-ray levels by June 18. The rapid fading is why astronomers rush to collect data as soon as they detect a blazar flare.

The Italian Space Agency's AGILE gamma-ray satellite first reported the flare, followed by Fermi. Rapid follow-up observations were made by NASA's Swift satellite and the European Space Agency's INTEGRAL spacecraft, which just happened to be looking in the right direction, along with optical and radio telescopes on the ground.

 

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For More Information

http://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/nasas-fermi-sees-record-flare-from-a-black-hole-in-a-distant-galaxy


Credits

Scott Wiessinger (USRA): Lead Producer
Francis Reddy (Syneren Technologies): Lead Writer
Jeremy Perkins (NASA/GSFC): Lead Animator
Please give credit for this item to:
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. However, individual items should be credited as indicated above.

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Mission:
Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope

Data Used:
Fermi/LAT
Fermi

This item is part of these series:
Narrated Movies
Astrophysics Visualizations
Astrophysics Stills
Astrophysics Features

Keywords:
SVS >> Galaxy
SVS >> Gamma Ray
SVS >> HDTV
SVS >> Black Hole
SVS >> Astrophysics
SVS >> Space
SVS >> Fermi
SVS >> Blazar