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Astronomers see the light when it comes to bl -

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Astronomers see the light when it comes to black holes

Felicity Ogilvie reported this story on Thursday, July 9, 2009 12:55:30

PETER CAVE: Black holes have something of a bad image for swallowing anything that's nearby.

But in a world's first, astronomers at the CSIRO have made the most detailed image yet of what
black holes spit back out again.

Felicity Ogilvie reports.

FELICITY OGILVIE: The galaxy Centaurus A is 14-million light years away from earth. It contains a
black hole that's 50-million times bigger than the sun and it's pumping radio waves out into space.

Astronomers from the CSIRO now know what those radio waves look like.

ILANA FEAIN: Right near the black hole is a pair of jets and these jets then travel over millions
of light years and they billow out into these plumes or big pillows of radiation with an area of
the size of about 200 times the full moon.

FELICITY OGILVIE: Ilana Feain used telescopes at Parkes and Narrabri in outback New South Wales to
look at the radio waves.

It took her three years to make the world's most detailed picture of what is coming out of the
black hole in Centaurus A.

ILANA FEAIN: The radio emission coming from the black hole has been ongoing for about a billion
years and so it extends way out, well beyond the galaxy. And even if you look at the Centaurus
galaxy there's, it has several neighbours around it and the radio emission from its black hole has
actually enveloped all of its neighbours as well, which is really very interesting.

FELICITY OGILVIE: Now, what does this tell you about galaxies then if you know that the radio waves
from black hole extend out for such a long period of time? What does that tell astronomers about
the importance of black holes for galaxies?

ILANA FEAIN: What we're starting to realise in the last few years, or maybe the last decade or so,
is that black holes and the energy from black holes is intimately related to the way galaxies form
and evolve over the epic of the universe.

FELICITY OGILVIE: Fellow CSIRO astronomer Brian Boyle hopes to use the information to find out more
about our galaxy - the Milky Way.

BRIAN BOYLE: By studying how the black hole in the centre of Centaurus A is currently interacting
with the gas in Centaurus A may tell us about how black holes heat up the gas, how it may stimulate
star formation in Centaurus A. And then we can then look back at our own galaxy and see if we can
see if you like fossil evidence for potential interactions between the galaxy, the black hole at
the centre of our galaxy when it once was active and look for telltale signs of previous activity
in our galactic black hole.

FELICITY OGILVIE: The astronomers say they have so much information from mapping the radio waves
from Centaurus A it will be several years before they can work out just how important black holes
are in forming galaxies.

PETER CAVE: Felicity Ogilvie reporting.