Galactic Flare

  • Released Thursday, January 28, 2016

Gamma rays, the highest-energy form of light, can be observed throughout the cosmos. But detecting emissions of very high energy from distant sources is extremely rare. So astronomers were surprised when, in April 2015, NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope saw a spike in gamma rays from a galaxy more than halfway across the universe. The galaxy, known as PKS 1441+25, is a type of active galaxy called a blazar. At its heart lies a monster black hole with a mass estimated at 70 million times the sun's. As material falls toward the black hole, some of it forms dual particle jets that blast out of the disk in opposite directions at nearly the speed of light. Although blazars are the most common sources of gamma rays detected by Fermi, PKS 1441+25 is one of only two such distant objects for which astronomers recorded emissions with energies greater than a hundred billion times that of visible light. Watch the video to learn more.

Galaxy PKS 1441+25 (center) is located more than half the universe away. Its light takes 7.6 billion years to reach Earth.

Galaxy PKS 1441+25 (center) is located more than half the universe away. Its light takes 7.6 billion years to reach Earth.

A long time ago the galaxy underwent a major eruption that sent a surge of high-energy gamma rays into space.

A long time ago the galaxy underwent a major eruption that sent a surge of high-energy gamma rays into space.

NASA's Fermi satellite detected the gamma rays in 2015. Scientists say the light is some of the highest-energy seen from a galaxy so distant.

NASA's Fermi satellite detected the gamma rays in 2015. Scientists say the light is some of the highest-energy seen from a galaxy so distant.

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NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

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This page was originally published on Thursday, January 28, 2016.
This page was last updated on Wednesday, May 3, 2023 at 1:48 PM EDT.