Jet from Milky Way’s giant black hole shows itself

The jet shooting from the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way appears in this image as the faint, small line near the bottom left. Chandra X-ray Observatory observations (pink) and Very Large Array radio data (blue) have provided the best evidence yet that the jet exists.

X-ray: Z.Li et al/UCLA/CXC/NASA; Radio: VLA/NRAO

New evidence confirms that high-energy particles spurt from the Milky Way’s central supermassive black hole, Sagittarius A*, or Sgr A*.

Astronomers thought they had seen hints of a particle jet shooting from Sgr A* before, but the data were inconclusive. Now, observations show a line of X-ray–emitting gas pointing directly at Sgr A* and a sonic boom–like structure where the jet seems to be striking the gas. These features along with others give Sgr A*’s supposed jet a profile similar to jets coming from other galaxies’ supermassive black holes, astronomers report November 20 on The paper has been accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal.

Sgr A* sits about 26,000 light-years from Earth in the direction of the constellation Sagittarius. The path of the black hole’s jet appears to run parallel to the axis around which the Milky Way rotates, an alignment that suggests that Sgr A* has not slammed into and merged with central supermassive black holes from other galaxies in the last 10 billion years.

photo of Ashley Yeager

Ashley Yeager is the associate news editor at Science News. She has worked at The Scientist, the Simons Foundation, Duke University and the W.M. Keck Observatory, and was the web producer for Science News from 2013 to 2015. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and a master’s degree in science writing from MIT.

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