Tag Archives: black holes

Another gravity wave detected by LIGO

The LIGO gravitational wave detector has detected its second gravitational wave, thought to come from the merger of two black holes.

The new observation came at 3:38.53 Coordinated Universal Time on 26 December 2015—late on Christmas day at LIGO’s detectors in Livingston, Louisiana, and Hanford, Washington. As in the first event, the detectors sensed an oscillating stretching of space-time, the signal, according to Einstein’s 
general theory of relativity, of massive objects in violent motion. Computer modeling indicated that its source was two black holes spiraling together about 1.4 billion light-years away. (LIGO researchers had seen a weaker signal on 12 October 2015 that may be a third black hole merger.)

Note the last sentence in the quote above. They might have had a third detection, but are uncertain enough to have not claimed it as one.

Milky Way’s central black hole is getting active

The uncertainty of science: Sagittarius A* (pronounced A-Star), the Milky Way’s supermassive central black hole, has shown signs of increased activity in recent months.

The new study reveals that Sagittarius A* (Sgr A* for short) has been producing one bright X-ray flare about every ten days. However, within the past year, there has been a ten-fold increase in the rate of bright flares from Sgr A*, at about one every day. This increase happened soon after the close approach to Sgr A* by a mysterious object called G2.

“For several years, we’ve been tracking the X-ray emission from Sgr A*. This includes also the close passage of this dusty object” said Gabriele Ponti of the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Germany. “A year or so ago, we thought it had absolutely no effect on Sgr A*, but our new data raise the possibility that that might not be the case.”

G2 was first thought to be a cloud that would be ripped apart as it passed close to Sgr A*, causing an outburst of activity. When it wasn’t ripped apart and there was no immediate increase in activity astronomers concluded that G2 was a star surrounded by dust which was generally unaffected by its close fly-by of the black hole.

The timing of this new activity now is puzzling. It comes much later than it should have if it was caused by G2, but astronomers don’t have any other explanation for it. It might be because of G2’s fly-by, or maybe the activity is just the natural variability of this poorly understand object. Either way it illustrates how little we really know about the behavior of giant black holes.

A bullseye in space

Cool image time! The science team of the Swift space telescope has released a movie compiled from X-ray images taken of the first outburst from black hole V404 Cygni in 26 years. [link fixed!]

Astronomers say the rings result from an “echo” of X-ray light. The black hole’s flares emit X-rays in all directions. Dust layers reflect some of these X-rays back to us, but the light travels a longer distance and reaches us slightly later than light traveling a more direct path. The time delay creates the light echo, forming rings that expand with time.

Detailed analysis of the expanding rings shows that they all originate from a large flare that occurred on June 26 at 1:40 p.m. EDT. There are multiple rings because there are multiple reflecting dust layers between 4,000 and 7,000 light-years away from us. Regular monitoring of the rings and how they change as the eruption continues will allow astronomers to better understand their nature.

V404 Cygni is located about 8,000 light-years away. Every couple of decades the black hole fires up in an outburst of high-energy light. Its previous eruption ended in 1989.

The animation below the fold is a smaller resolution version of the movie, showing the rings as they expand outward.
» Read more

Black hole awakes after 26 years

For the first time since 1989, the black hole in V404 Cygni, a system comprising a black hole and a star, has reawakened, suddenly emitting high energy outbursts beginning on June 15.

First signs of renewed activity in V404 Cygni were spotted by the Burst Alert Telescope on NASA’s Swift satellite, detecting a sudden burst of gamma rays, and then triggering observations with its X-ray telescope. Soon after, MAXI (Monitor of All-sky X-ray Image), part of the Japanese Experiment Module on the International Space Station, observed an X-ray flare from the same patch of the sky.

These first detections triggered a massive campaign of observations from ground-based telescopes and from space-based observatories, to monitor V404 Cygni at many different wavelengths across the electromagnetic spectrum.

The outbursts are probably occurring because the black hole is gobbling up material that has fallen into it.

While the 1989 outburst helped astronomers gain their first understand of the behavior of a black hole in a star system, this outburst will help them understand how such systems evolve and change over time.

Hubble films of movie of a jet firing from a black hole

Cool image time! Using images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope over the past two decades astronomers have assembled a movie of the motion of blobs, ejected by a jet from a supermassive black hole at the center of a galaxy.

The jet from NGC 3862 has a string-of-pearls structure of glowing knots of material. Taking advantage of Hubble’s sharp resolution and long-term optical stability, Eileen Meyer of the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Maryland, matched archival Hubble images with a new, deep image taken in 2014 to better understand jet motions. Meyer was surprised to see a fast knot with an apparent speed of seven times the speed of light catch up with the end of a slower moving, but still superluminal, knot along the string. The resulting “shock collision” caused the merging blobs to brighten significantly.

The movie is below the fold.
» Read more

The race to map the space around the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy

The uncertainty of science: Using a new generation of telescopes, in space and on the ground, astronomers hope to better confine Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity by studying the distortion in light and energy produced by the powerful gravitational field surrounding Sagittarius A* (pronounced A-star), the 4 million solar mass black hole at the center of the Milky Way.

This is an excellent article explaining both the limits of our ability to study black holes as well as what we do know about Sagittarius A*.

Correction: Thanks to commenter Mike Nelson for noticing that I had mistakenly written “billion” instead of “million” for the mass of Sagittarius A* above.

A quasar shuts down

Astronomers have identified the first quasar to change its energy output.

Quasars are massive, luminous objects that draw their energy from black holes. Until now, scientists have been unable to study both the bright and dim phases of a quasar in a single source. As described in an upcoming edition of the Astrophysical Journal, Yale-led researchers spotted a quasar that had dimmed by a factor of six or seven, compared with observations from a few years earlier.

It is also believed that quasars are the central supermassive black holes at the center of these very distant and ancient galaxies. Knowing how these black holes change can tell us something about the behavior of Sagittarius A*, the generally quiet central black hole in the Milky Way.

A pulsar that’s eating a galaxy

The uncertainty of science: Astronomers have discovered a pulsar emitting energy at a rate far greater than ever predicted and which is believed caused by the very fast in-fall of matter into the neutron star.

Astronomers have found a pulsating, dead star beaming with the energy of about 10 million suns. This is the brightest pulsar – a dense stellar remnant left over from a supernova explosion – ever recorded. The discovery was made with NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR. “You might think of this pulsar as the ‘Mighty Mouse’ of stellar remnants,” said Fiona Harrison, the NuSTAR principal investigator at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California. “It has all the power of a black hole, but with much less mass.”

More here. The galaxy where this pulsar resides, M82, has been known for decades to be one of the most interesting, with evidence of vast explosions tearing it apart. This pulsar is at its center, and appears to be sucking in matter at a rate previously believed impossible, suggesting that the supermassive black holes found at the center of many galaxies could form much faster that any theory predicted.

A giant black hole in a tiny galaxy

The uncertainty of science: Astronomers have unexpectedly discovered a supermassive black hole in the center of a nearby tiny galaxy, comprising almost 18% of the galaxy’s entire mass.

To weigh the beast, the researchers measured the velocity of stars whipping about the galaxy’s centre using an infrared spectrometer on the Gemini North telescope atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii. The high velocity of the stars is best explained by a central black hole that tips the scales at 21 million times the Sun’s mass, concluded Seth’s team. That is more than five times heavier than the black hole at the centre of the Milky Way — even though M60-UCD1 has an estimated diameter of about one-six-hundredth that of our home galaxy.

Previously astronomers had believed that the size of a galaxy would predict the size of its central black hole, and that a galaxy this small would not house such a supermassive object. This find upsets those theories.

A trio of supermassive black holes

Astronomers have discovered a trinary of supermassive black holes at the center of a distant collision of multiple galaxies.

Astronomer Roger Deane of the University of Cape Town in South Africa and his colleagues have been watching a particular quasar, known as SDSS J1502+1115, in the constellation Boötes. Other astronomers had found that the object, located 4.3 billion light-years from Earth, possessed two supermassive black holes, each the center of a large galaxy smashing into another. The black holes are at least 24,000 light-years apart.

Deane wanted to confirm their existence, so he used an intercontinental array of radio dishes that yields even sharper views than the Hubble Space Telescope. Lo and behold, one of the black holes turned out to be two. “We were incredibly surprised,” says Deane, whose team reports its findings online today in Nature.

While the discovery of this system is incredibly cool, this article in the journal Science is surprisingly incorrect on some points, while also missing the main story.
» Read more

Stephen Hawking, one of the world’s top experts on black holes, has written a paper stating there are no black holes.

The uncertainty of science: Stephen Hawking, one of the world’s top experts on black holes, has written a paper stating there are no black holes.

At least, there is no such thing as an event horizon, meaning that black holes are not what scientists have believed.

Astronomers watch the central supermassive black hole of a galaxy eat something, either a planet or a brown dwarf.

Astronomers watch the central supermassive black hole of a galaxy eat something, either a planet or a brown dwarf.

Astronomers were using Integral to study a different galaxy when they noticed a bright X-ray flare coming from another location in the same wide field-of-view. Using XMM-Newton, the origin was confirmed as NGC 4845, a galaxy never before detected at high energies. Along with Swift and MAXI, the emission was traced from its maximum in January 2011, when the galaxy brightened by a factor of a thousand, and then as it subsided over the course of the year. “The observation was completely unexpected, from a galaxy that has been quiet for at least 20–30 years,” says Marek Nikolajuk of the University of Bialystok, Poland, lead author of the paper in Astronomy & Astrophysics.

By analysing the characteristics of the flare, the astronomers could determine that the emission came from a halo of material around the galaxy’s central black hole as it tore apart and fed on an object of 14–30 Jupiter masses. This size range corresponds to brown dwarfs, substellar objects that are not massive enough to fuse hydrogen in their core and ignite as stars. However, the authors note that it could have had an even lower mass, just a few times that of Jupiter, placing it in the range of gas-giant planets.

All the instruments listed above are orbiting space telescopes. You can read the science paper here.

An analysis of the survey data produced by the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) has uncovered literally millions of black hole candidates as well as a thousand of the brightest galaxies yet found.

An analysis of the survey data produced by the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) has uncovered literally millions of black hole candidates as well as a thousand of the brightest galaxies yet found.

Astronomers think they have discovered a distant supermassive black hole that is being ejected from its galaxy at a speed of several million miles per hour.

Astronomers think they have discovered a distant supermassive black hole that is being ejected from its galaxy at a speed of several million miles per hour.

Although the ejection of a supermassive black hole from a galaxy by recoil because more gravitational waves are being emitted in one direction than another is likely to be rare, it nevertheless could mean that there are many giant black holes roaming undetected out in the vast spaces between galaxies. “These black holes would be invisible to us,” said co-author Laura Blecha, also of CfA, “because they have consumed all of the gas surrounding them after being thrown out of their home galaxy.”

This conclusion however is not final. The data could also be explained by the spiraling in of two supermassive black holes.

Two newly discovered supermassive black holes weigh in as the heaviest known

Two newly discovered supermassive black holes weigh in as the heaviest known.

One of the newly discovered black holes is 9.7 billion solar masses and is located in the elliptical galaxy NGC 3842, which is the brightest galaxy in the Leo cluster of galaxies that sits 320 million light years away in the direction of the constellation Leo. The second is as large or larger and sits in the elliptical galaxy NGC 4889, which is the brightest galaxy in the Coma cluster about 336 million light years from Earth in the direction of the constellation Coma Berenices.

It is believed that these heavy supermassive black holes are the kind that produced quasars in the early universe.

Astronomers have proposed that the cloud of dust that surrounds about 50% of the supermassive black holes at the center of galaxies comes from destroyed planets

Science better than fiction: Astronomers have proposed that the cloud of dust surrounding about 50% of the supermassive black holes at the center of galaxies comes from planets that were ripped apart and smashed by that black hole.

Collisions between these rocky objects would occur at colossal speeds as large as 1000 km per second, continuously shattering and fragmenting the objects, until eventually they end up as microscopic dust. Dr. Nayakshin points out that this harsh environment – radiation and frequent collisions – would make the planets orbiting supermassive black holes sterile, even before they are destroyed. “Too bad for life on these planets”, he says, “but on the other hand the dust created in this way blocks much of the harmful radiation from reaching the rest of the host galaxy. This in turn may make it easier for life to prosper elsewhere in the rest of the central region of the galaxy.”

An X-ray deep field over six weeks by Chandra finds massive black holes common in early universe

An X-ray deep field image taken over a six week period by Chandra had found that massive black holes are common in early universe.

These results imply that between 30% and 100% of the distant galaxies contain growing supermassive black holes. Extrapolating these results from the relatively small field of view that was observed to the full sky, there are at least 30 million supermassive black holes in the early Universe. This is a factor of 10,000 larger than the estimated number of quasars in the early Universe.