Astronomers are now measuring stuff — material, matter, things — that moves at so close to the speed of light you might think it’d make Einstein a bit nervous.

Among thee speed demons of the universe are Jupiter-sized blobs of hot gas embedded in streams of material ejected from hyperactive galaxies known as blazars. Last week at a meeting here of the American Astronomical Society, scientists announced they had measured blobs in blazar jets screaming through space at 99.9 percent of light-speed.



“This tells us that the physical processes at the cores of these galaxies … are extremely energetic and are capable of propelling matter very close to the absolute cosmic speed limit,” said Glenn Piner of Whittier College in Whittier, California.



Ponder the power of the fast moving superheated gas, known as plasma:



“To accelerate a bowling ball to the speed newly measured in these blazars would require all the energy produced in the world for an entire week,” Piner said. “And the blobs of plasma in these jets are at least as massive as a large planet.”



The blazar jets are running around the universe in some fast company. Slightly faster, in fact.



In another study presented at the meeting, ultra high-energy cosmic rays thought to originate in a collision of galaxy clusters are slamming into Earth’s atmosphere at more than 99.9 percent of the speed of light. Measurements put the number at 99.9 followed by 19 more nines — about as close to light-speed as you can get without splitting hairs.



The particles are not light, but actual matter. They are tiny, thought to be mostly protons, but the energy that motivates them is similarly fantastic, and the mechanisms may be intertwined.



More here.

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