Skip to comments.XMM-Newton takes astronomers to a black hole’s edge (swallowing equivalent of two Earths per hour)
Posted on 05/27/2009 12:26:10 PM PDT by NormsRevenge
Using new data from ESAs XMM-Newton spaceborne observatory, astronomers have probed closer than ever to a supermassive black hole lying deep at the core of a distant active galaxy.
The galaxy known as 1H0707-495 was observed during four 48-hr-long orbits of XMM-Newton around Earth, starting in January 2008. The black hole at its centre was thought to be partially obscured from view by intervening clouds of gas and dust, but these current observations have revealed the innermost depths of the galaxy.
We can now start to map out the region immediately around the black hole, says Andrew Fabian, at the University of Cambridge, who headed the observations and analysis.
X-rays are produced as matter swirls into a supermassive black hole. The X-rays illuminate and are reflected from the matter before its eventual accretion. Iron atoms in the flow imprint characteristic iron lines on the reflected light. The iron lines are distorted in a number of characteristic ways: they are affected by the speed of the orbiting iron atoms, the energy required for the X-rays to escape the black holes gravitational field, and the spin of the black hole. All these features show that the astronomers are tracking matter to within twice the radius of the black hole itself.
XMM-Newton detected two bright features of iron emission in the reflected X-rays that had never been seen together in an active galaxy. These bright features are known as the iron L and K lines, and they can be so bright only if there is a high abundance of iron. Seeing both in this galaxy suggests that the core is much richer in iron than the rest of the galaxy.
The direct X-ray emission varies in brightness with time. During the observation, the iron L line was bright enough for its variations to be followed.
A painstaking statistical analysis of the data revealed a time lag of 30 seconds between changes in the X-ray light observed directly, and those seen in its reflection from the disc. This delay in the echo enabled the size of the reflecting region to be measured, which leads to an estimate of the mass of the black hole at about 3 to 5 million solar masses.
The observations of the iron lines also reveal that the black hole is spinning very rapidly and eating matter so quickly that it verges on the theoretical limit of its eating ability, swallowing the equivalent of two Earths per hour.
The team are continuing to track the galaxy using their new technique. There is a lot for them to study. Far from being a steady process, like water slipping down a plughole, a feeding black hole is a messy eater.
Accretion is a very messy process because of the magnetic fields that are involved, says Fabian.
Their new technique will enable the astronomers to map out the process in all its glorious complexity, taking them to previously unseen regions at the very edges of this and other supermassive black holes.
Have scientists ever probed into a black hole, like to see what is inside/otherside?
I didnt read the article to deep for me.
I think Maximillian Schell did that once with Yvette Mimeux.
Think of it as a giant RAID roach motel. nothing gets out.
the sky is full of ‘em.
The “edge” of a black hole is the event horizon.
Basically, there are no laws of physics, no time, nothing inside a black hole. We can only infer its properties from the effect it has on the local gravitational field near the edge.
Thanks for explaining.
Maybe that is where all the UFO aliens reside. /sarc
What an excellent opportunity for Obama to hold another hour-long prime-time press conference to talk about how his administration's deep space policies represent a repudiation of the failed policies of the past. No need to worry that he'll be asked what he would do differently.
And the never ending taxes, when it comes to the D.C. variety of black holes...
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Even the laws of physics might be totally different and bizarre inside a black hole but there is no way we'll [ever] be able to directly observe it. I'm hedging my bets a little bit by putting 'ever' in brackets because I think it's kind of presumptuous to put limits on what our descendants will be able to do or not do thousands or millions or billions of years from now, if they're still around.
I heard they are going to name it Oprah.
>>Basically, there are no laws of physics, no time, nothing inside a black hole
Well now I am really curious.
I bet those who study the science of astronomy are super curious to know what is on the other side/ in side these black holes.
Another dimension? Other galaxies? Time travel? An exciting thing to try and find out.
It is beautiful.
A quantum foam that dissipates via radiation - appears to be what the innermost of a black hole is, no singularity.
What is beyond the event horizon is likely something that will never be known - good science fiction stories notwithstanding.
Even approaching a black hole is to court catastrophe. As you approach, the massive gravitation will rip you apart.
Larry Niven wrote a short book in 1966 named “Neutron Star” that is rather easy to find in his collections, and can give you a great deal of insight into why it is going to be very difficult to discover much about “inside a black hole”. A very fun book to read on a “rainy day”.
I thought about qualifiers, and settled on “basically”. I pitched to the audience and kept my reply as simple as possible. I didn’t want my qualifier to begin with “Ignoring quantum mechanical considerations...”
>>Ignoring quantum mechanical considerations...
Quantum mechanics is Physics. Basically.
I agree, “basically” was absolutely the wrong qualifier. I wanted to avoid sounding condescending while at the same time keep it simple. What might have been better?