D-22: That’s No Star

Another guest post from Murmeldjuret, republished with permission.


If you look near the constallation of Virgo, you can see this thing:

Spoiler: Hubble Space Telescope is Great


But wait, that’s no star…

That is the M87 galaxy. Yes, the bright yellow orb in the upper left is a galaxy, equal in diameter toour galaxy. Despite being about the same diameter as the Milky Way, M87 weighs a few thousandtimes as much, as it is practically spherical, whereas the Milky Way is a disk. M87 is a supergiant elliptical galaxy in the Virgo GalacticCluster, part of the Virgo Supercluster, the same Supercluster a certain Milky Way resides in. Here is picture of the Virgo Supercluster:

Spoiler: Virgo Supercluster


M87 is near the centre towards us in the Virgo Cluster. In fact, that is rather close, at only 53million light years away. That is just 20x the distance to Andromeda. Our closest galaxy.

Here is an image to scale, with each pixel equal to 50kpc, or 163000 lightyears, or 1 550 000 000 000000 000 meters, or 1.55 billion billion meters. Per pixel.
Yes, that blue line is longer than the distance between us and Andromeda. That line is not your friend. That line is a jet of ejected electrons and a continuous Gamma Ray Burst. Yes, a continuous stream, the size of a galaxy, of the stuff we saw back in Luck. The electrons? We don’t know that much actually. The instruments tell us that they move faster than the speed of light, so we assume the instruments are wrong. Their total energy is somewhere on the order of 10^50 Joules. Or equivalent to the energy output of the Milky Way, for the past three hundred thousand years.

Had it been pointing at us the visible part would cover more than 1/10 the distance between the galaxies. Exactly how bright it would shine is hard to say, but it would be clearly visible from every part of the galaxy. How strong the radiation would be is also hard to say, but it is one of thosequestions that we are glad we don’t have to answer.

Now what kind of monster can create that thing. Well the supermassive black hole is more 3.5 000 000 000 times the mass of our sun, 3.5 BILLION times the mass of our sun. Or more than 1/500 of the mass of the Milky Way.
It is one of the biggest objects we have everdetected.

The black hole appears to not lie in the galactic centre, which is weird. There are two theories, equally scary awesome.

  1. This is due to relativity and sensible physics breaking down due to the mass andrelativistic jet of matter. It actually lies in the centre, but the laws of physics get bent so we see an illusion.
  2. The Black hole only has one jet, which it shouldn’t, but if so that jet is accelerating the black hole out of the galaxy. It would explain why we only see one beam, but the missing other beam can be explained by A.

Life as we know it can not evolve in M87. The extreme activity going on bathes the galaxy in X-Ray clouds. In fact, the X-Ray cloud has pressure waves and storms, much like a weather system. Lead jacket is minimum packing if you even want to get close to M87.

Despite being many times the mass of the Milky Way, M87 actually has less of a dust cloud by a large margin. Either it has been blown away by the jet or been swallowed by the black hole.
M87 does have a very large number of Globular Starclusters, small groups of stars surrounding a galaxy. About 12000 of them, whereas the Milky Way only has a few hundred. One of these globular clusters is called HVGC-1, or High Velocity Globular Cluster 1. It has been ejected from the galaxy at a speed of several thousand kilometers per second. In fact, it is going so fast it will one day leave the Virgo Supercluster. It got fed up with the Virgo family and is departing for a distant void. Simulations indicate this is due to there being, or having been, two black holes in the centre of M87. It is very likely M87 has previously swallowed other galaxies.

According to some of the end of the universe ideas, it will one day swallow all of the Virgo Supercluster, Earth included.
After all, it isn’t very far, and we are movingtowards each other.


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