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Checking out Hubble's new eyes.

It took just 20 minutes for the Hubble Space Telescope's new imaging spectrograph to confirm the existence of a black hole at the center of M84, a galaxy 50 million light-years from Earth. The zigzag pattern (left) depicts the speeds of orbiting gas and stars, measured on opposite sides of the galactic center at distances ranging from 1,500 light-years (top and bottom of the image) to 26 light-years (center line). Green and blue indicate material moving toward Earth; yellow and red indicate material moving away.

Close to the galaxy's center, the speeds of orbiting matter skyrocket to 400 kilometers per second, pushing the emissions to the far red and far blue. The sharp increase in speed can only be explained by the presence of a central black hole at least as massive as 300 million suns tugging on the gas and stars, reported Bruce E. Woodgate of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., at a press briefing this week.

Unlike its two predecessors, which laboriously measured speeds one point at a time, the new spectrograph records a series of velocities simultaneously, enabling astronomers to conduct a rapid census of nearby galaxies and to hunt for smaller black holes than could previously be detected

Despite problems that could cut its 4.5-year intended lifetime by more than half (SN: 5/3/97, p. 272), a second instrument installed on Hubble last February is also proving its mettle. The near-infrared camera and multi-object spectrograph penetrated the dust cloaking OMC-1, part of a stellar nursery in the Orion nebula (right). The bright central object is the massive star BN; molecular hydrogen (blue blobs at lower left) may indicate material thrust from nascent stars yet to emerge from their dusty cocoons.
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Title Annotation:Hubble Space Telescope's new imaging spectrograph finds black hole at center of M84 galaxy
Author:Cowen, Ron
Publication:Science News
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:May 17, 1997
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