This image of the galaxy Pictor A and it’s mind-blowing beam of X-rays wandered across my consciousness via social media.
The details of this thing are pretty incredible:
The Star Wars franchise has featured the fictitious “Death Star,” which can shoot powerful beams of radiation across space. The Universe, however, produces phenomena that often surpass what science fiction can conjure.
The Pictor A galaxy is one such impressive object. This galaxy, located nearly 500 million light years from Earth, contains a supermassive black hole at its center. A huge amount of gravitational energy is released as material swirls towards the event horizon, the point of no return for infalling material. This energy produces an enormous beam, or jet, of particles traveling at nearly the speed of light into intergalactic space.
To obtain images of this jet, scientists used NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory at various times over 15 years. Chandra’s X-ray data (blue) have been combined with radio data from the Australia Telescope Compact Array (red) in this new composite image.
By studying the details of the structure seen in both X-rays and radio waves, scientists seek to gain a deeper understanding of these huge collimated blasts.
The jet [to the right] in Pictor A is the one that is closest to us. It displays continuous X-ray emission over a distance of 300,000 light years. By comparison, the entire Milky Way is about 100,000 light years in diameter. Because of its relative proximity and Chandra’s ability to make detailed X-ray images, scientists can look at detailed features in the jet and test ideas of how the X-ray emission is produced.
In addition to the prominent jet seen pointing to the right in the image, researchers report evidence for another jet pointing in the opposite direction, known as a “counterjet”. While tentative evidence for this counterjet had been previously reported, these new Chandra data confirm its existence. The relative faintness of the counterjet compared to the jet is likely due to the motion of the counterjet away from the line of sight to the Earth.
The complete description from the Chandra folks is here.
An artist’s life is often a cascade of choices; making decisions about subject, medium, style, color – the list is basically endless. Each choice prunes the tree of possibilities and dramatically effects not just the final result, but also the process. Making a painting with hammer and chisel is pretty difficult.
The choice of sculpture as my chief focus came as a natural progression from my exposure to and background in construction and carpentry. From laborer to craftsman to artist. The tools of these trades impacted not only the output of each discipline, but the artist himself: my body paid the price for my choices in the form of tendon and joint damage. Pain is another highly effective filter, forcing me to put down some tools and pick up others – like the computer. Working digitally enabled me to continue exploring form without the pain, the frustration of lost dexterity. The medium of 3D software comes with its own constraints and demands, including the obvious level of remove from the physical interaction with the work, as well a the massive intellectual overhead of learning how the software functions. I’ve run through the litany of software I use on this blog before, so I won’t burden you with that again. Suffice it to say that the number and complexity of tools between me and what I want to make can be frustrating. If I have to watch one more half hour tutorial video just to get the effect I envision, I may explode.
I’ve once again taken the Oblique Strategy of returning to the beginning: my first exposure to creating on the computer was via vector drawing and Adobe Illustrator. In pursuit of simplicity and creativity through constraint, I’ve elected to see what I can make using just my iPhone and the App ecosystem thereon. A company called Pixite makes several interesting creative apps, including a simple but powerful vector drawing program, Assembly – far simpler than Illustrator, but that’s the whole point. An added bonus is portability and the freedom to sit or lie in any position while working – it’s a great way to relieve the stress of desk jockeying (not to mention standing around all day on cold concrete, melting frigid stainless steel together).