NASA's Hubble spots an active black hole swallowing up giant dust tendrils

Only months after experts feared the legacy telescope was finished.
Chris Young
Hubble telescope on orbit of Earth.dima_zel/iStock

Last year, there were serious concerns the Hubble telescope would never work again following a series of technical issues leading to a halt in operations.

Now, the iconic orbital observatory has captured a fascinating new image of a galaxy with an active black hole and massive dark dust tendrils, a post from NASA reveals.

Hubble is at it again

The spiral galaxy, called NGC 7172, is located roughly 110 million light-years away from Earth in the Piscis Austrinus constellation. The image (shown below) is a combination of two different captures taken by the Hubble Space Telescope's Advanced Camera for Surveys and Wide Field Camera 3.

NASA's Hubble spots an active black hole swallowing up giant dust tendrils
The image of the Seyfert galaxy NGC 7172. Source: ESA/Hubble & NASA

The dust tendrils shown in the image obscure the center of the galaxy, making it look like any other spiral galaxy. However, as NASA points out, NGC 7172 is actually a Seyfert galaxy — a type of galaxy that has an intensely luminous galactic nucleus at its center fueled by the matter accreting onto the galaxy's active black hole.

When this dust and gas fall into the galaxy's supermassive black hole, it emits incredibly bright rays of light. The fact that this light is largely obscured gives an idea of the extent of the dark dust surrounding the universe.

Technical issues plague Hubble's recent operations

Hubble has suffered several near-death moments in recent years, and it is nearing the end of its lifetime. Having spent more than 31 years making historic space observations, its hardware is starting to show its age via a number of technical issues that have ceased operations on a number of occasions.

In June last year, for example, a problem with Hubble's payload computer caused it to switch to safe mode, leading to a roughly month-long outage as mission control at NASA investigated and fixed the problem by switching to backup hardware.

Over the more than three decades since Hubble launched in 1990, it has made over 1.5 million observations, leading to the publication of 18,000 scientific papers on papers ranging from dark energy to black holes and neutron stars.

With Hubble approaching the end of its lifespan, NASA's Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope, designed specifically for gravitational microlensing, and the recently-launched James Webb will take up the mantle, peering further into the cosmos than we've ever seen before.

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