Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

ESA’s Integral discovers hidden black holes

20.10.2003


Integral, ESA’s powerful gamma-ray space telescope, has discovered what seems to be a new class of astronomical objects.


An artist’s impression of the mechanisms in an interacting binary system. The supermassive companion star (on the right-hand side) ejects a lot of gas in the form of ’stellar wind’. The compact black hole orbits the star and, due to its strong gravitational attraction, collects a lot of the gas. Some of it is funnelled and accelerated into a hot disc. This releases a large amount of energy in all spectral bands, from gamma rays through to visible and infrared. However, the remaining gas surrounding the black hole forms a thick cloud which blocks most of the radiation. Only the very energetic gamma rays can escape and be detected by Integral.



These are binary systems, probably including a black hole or a neutron star, embedded in a thick cocoon of cold gas. They have remained invisible so far to all other telescopes. Integral was launched one year ago to study the most energetic phenomena in the universe.
Integral detected the first of these objects, called IGRJ16318-4848, on 29 January 2003. Although astronomers did not know its distance, they were sure it was in our Galaxy. Also, after some analysis, researchers concluded that the new object could be a binary system comprising a compact object, such as a neutron star or a black hole, and a very massive companion star.

When gas from the companion star is accelerated and swallowed by the more compact object, energy is released at all wavelengths, from the gamma rays through to visible and infrared light. About 300 binary systems like those are known to exist in our galactic neighbourhood and IGRJ16318-4848 could simply have been one more. But something did not fit: why this particular object had not been discovered so far?



Astronomers, who have been observing the object regularly, guess that it had remained invisible because there must be a very thick shell of obscuring material surrounding it. If that was the case, only the most energetic radiation from the object could get through the shell; less-energetic radiation would be blocked. That could explain why space telescopes that are sensitive only to low-energy radiation had overlooked the object, while Integral, specialised in detecting very energetic emissions, did see it.

To test their theory, astronomers turned to ESA’s XMM-Newton space observatory, which observes the sky in the X-ray wavelengths. As well as being sensitive to high-energy radiation, XMM-Newton is also able to check for the presence of obscuring material. Indeed, XMM-Newton detected this object last February, as well as the existence of a dense ’cocoon’ of cold gas with a diameter of similar size to that of the Earth’s orbit around the Sun.

This obscuring material forming the cocoon is probably ’stellar wind’, namely gas ejected by the supermassive companion star. Astronomers think that this gas may be accreted by the compact black hole, forming a dense shell around it. This obscuring cloud traps most of the energy produced inside it.

The main author of these results, Roland Walter of the Integral Science Data Centre, Switzerland, explained: "Only photons with the highest energies [above 10 keV] could escape from that cocoon. IGR J16318-4848 has therefore not been detected by surveys performed at lower energies, nor by previous gamma-ray missions that were much less sensitive than Integral."

The question now is to find out how many of these objects lurk in the Galaxy. XMM-Newton and Integral together are the perfect tools to do the job. They have already discovered two more new sources embedded in obscuring material. Future observations are planned.

Christoph Winkler, ESA Project Scientist for Integral, said: "These early examples of using two complementary ESA high-energy missions, Integral and XMM-Newton, shows the potential for future discoveries in high-energy astrophysics."

Christoph Winkler | ESA
Further information:
http://www.esa.int/export/esaCP/SEMPHV1P4HD_index_0.html

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: LaserTAB: More efficient and precise contacts thanks to human-robot collaboration

At the productronica trade fair in Munich this November, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT will be presenting Laser-Based Tape-Automated Bonding, LaserTAB for short. The experts from Aachen will be demonstrating how new battery cells and power electronics can be micro-welded more efficiently and precisely than ever before thanks to new optics and robot support.

Fraunhofer ILT from Aachen relies on a clever combination of robotics and a laser scanner with new optics as well as process monitoring, which it has developed...

Im Focus: The pyrenoid is a carbon-fixing liquid droplet

Plants and algae use the enzyme Rubisco to fix carbon dioxide, removing it from the atmosphere and converting it into biomass. Algae have figured out a way to increase the efficiency of carbon fixation. They gather most of their Rubisco into a ball-shaped microcompartment called the pyrenoid, which they flood with a high local concentration of carbon dioxide. A team of scientists at Princeton University, the Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford University and the Max Plank Institute of Biochemistry have unravelled the mysteries of how the pyrenoid is assembled. These insights can help to engineer crops that remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while producing more food.

A warming planet

Im Focus: Highly precise wiring in the Cerebral Cortex

Our brains house extremely complex neuronal circuits, whose detailed structures are still largely unknown. This is especially true for the so-called cerebral cortex of mammals, where among other things vision, thoughts or spatial orientation are being computed. Here the rules by which nerve cells are connected to each other are only partly understood. A team of scientists around Moritz Helmstaedter at the Frankfiurt Max Planck Institute for Brain Research and Helene Schmidt (Humboldt University in Berlin) have now discovered a surprisingly precise nerve cell connectivity pattern in the part of the cerebral cortex that is responsible for orienting the individual animal or human in space.

The researchers report online in Nature (Schmidt et al., 2017. Axonal synapse sorting in medial entorhinal cortex, DOI: 10.1038/nature24005) that synapses in...

Im Focus: Tiny lasers from a gallery of whispers

New technique promises tunable laser devices

Whispering gallery mode (WGM) resonators are used to make tiny micro-lasers, sensors, switches, routers and other devices. These tiny structures rely on a...

Im Focus: Ultrafast snapshots of relaxing electrons in solids

Using ultrafast flashes of laser and x-ray radiation, scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics (Garching, Germany) took snapshots of the briefest electron motion inside a solid material to date. The electron motion lasted only 750 billionths of the billionth of a second before it fainted, setting a new record of human capability to capture ultrafast processes inside solids!

When x-rays shine onto solid materials or large molecules, an electron is pushed away from its original place near the nucleus of the atom, leaving a hole...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

“Lasers in Composites Symposium” in Aachen – from Science to Application

19.09.2017 | Event News

I-ESA 2018 – Call for Papers

12.09.2017 | Event News

EMBO at Basel Life, a new conference on current and emerging life science research

06.09.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Fraunhofer ISE Pushes World Record for Multicrystalline Silicon Solar Cells to 22.3 Percent

25.09.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Usher syndrome: Gene therapy restores hearing and balance

25.09.2017 | Health and Medicine

An international team of physicists a coherent amplification effect in laser excited dielectrics

25.09.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>