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Watch a Gallactic Super-Volcano 50 Million Light Years Away

Composite image of M87 features X-rays from Chandra (blue) and radio emission from the Very Large Array (red-orange).
Chandra X-ray Observatory Center
Composite image of M87 features X-rays from Chandra (blue) and radio emission from the Very Large Array (red-orange).
Chandra X-ray Observatory Center

50 million light years away from the Earth, a massive galaxy, is undergoing shock waves as the result of the interaction between a black hole and cooling gas.

In the above image, the hot gas (represented in blue) was expected to cool and move toward the center of the galaxy - known as M87 - where it normally would be expected to produce new stars. But scientists using NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and NSF's Very Large Array, said that "jets of very energetic particles produced by the black hole" interrupted this process. In a statement, they said the jets essentially "lift up the relatively cool gas near the center of the galaxy and produce shock waves in the galaxy's atmosphere because of their supersonic speed."

Looking for an analogy, scientists said they detected similarities between this cosmic "eruption" with the galaxy's environment and the shock waves emanating from the explosions of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano in Iceland in 2010.

In the analogy with Eyjafjallajokull, the energetic particles produced in the vicinity of the black hole rise through the X-ray emitting atmosphere of the cluster, lifting up the coolest gas near the center of M87 in their wake. This is similar to the hot volcanic gases that drag up the clouds of dark ash. And just like the volcano here on Earth, shock waves can be seen when the black hole pumps energetic particles into the cluster gas. The energetic particles, coolest gas and shock waves are shown in a labeled version.
Chandra X-ray Observatory Center

Meanwhile, if your memory of last year's big Icelandic eruption is fading, check this out this reminder: