Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Flares near edge of our galaxy’s central black hole indicate rapid spin

31.10.2003


Razor-sharp optics on ground-based telescopes now allows astronomers to peer at events occurring near the very edge of our galaxy’s central black hole, providing new clues about the massive but invisible object at the core of the Milky Way.


The whirling accretion disk surrounding the supermassive black hole (center) at the core of the Milky Way Galaxy. As hot gas falls into the black hole, the energy is converted into radiation which is emitted in sudden bursts. The infrared emissions detected recently may accompany blobs of gas ejected from the disk (purple) or come from sparks that occur randomly in the accreting gas (yellow). (Courtesy of Nature, based on image created by Michael P. Owen)



In a paper in this week’s issue of Nature, a team led by University of California, Berkeley, physicist Reinhard Genzel, who also directs the Max-Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics (MPE) in Garching, Germany, reports the detection of powerful infrared flares from a region just outside the supermassive black hole.

If the black hole, which has a mass about 3.6 million times that of the sun, were at the center of our solar system, the flares would have come from somewhere within the orbit of Earth.


The observed signals, rapidly flickering on a scale of minutes, probably came from hot gas falling into the black hole, just before the gas disappeared below the "event horizon" - the point of no return for a black hole from which even light cannot escape.

The new observations strongly suggest that the black hole at the galaxy’s core rotates rapidly, the team concluded.

"This is a major breakthrough," Genzel said. "We know from theory that a black hole can only have mass, spin and electrical charge. Last year, we were able to unambiguously prove the existence and determine the mass of the galactic center black hole.

"If our assumption is correct that the periodicity (of the flares) is the fundamental orbital time of the accreting gas, we now have also measured its spin for the first time. And that turns out to be about half of the maximum spin that general relativity allows."

The observed flares repeated about every 17 minutes, implying that the central black hole rotates once about every 30 seconds, said Eliot Quataert, a UC Berkeley assistant professor of astronomy involved in theoretical modeling of the black hole accretion disk. For comparison, the sun, which is one-tenth the diameter of the black hole and several million times less massive, rotates about once every month, Quataert noted.

Scientists have never before been able to study phenomena in the immediate neighborhood of a black hole in such a detail. The new result is based on observations obtained with the NACO Adaptive Optics instrument on the 8.2-meter KUEYEN telescope of the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile’s Atacama desert.

A separate team from UCLA reported last month in Astrophysical Journal that it had seen similar variability in infrared emissions from the galaxy’s central black hole using the adaptive optics on the W. M. Keck II telescope in Hawaii. Adaptive optics allows telescopes to overcome the image distortions in the optical/infrared wavelength region caused by the turbulent terrestrial atmosphere. By flexing a deformable mirror, adaptive optics on the VLT produces an image about 10 times sharper in the near-infrared than with conventional observations, and about four times sharper than the Hubble Space Telescope working at this wavelength.

"Now the era of observational black hole physics has truly begun," Genzel said.

"These observations, reflecting similar patterns seen earlier in X-rays, open a new window on this enigmatic source," said Ramesh Narayan of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, in a commentary that also appears in this week’s Nature.

"We had been looking for infrared emission from that black hole for more than a decade," said team member Andreas Eckart of Cologne University in Germany. "We were certain that the black hole must be accreting matter from time to time. As this matter falls towards the surface of the black hole, it gets hotter and hotter and starts emitting infrared radiation."

The near-infrared emissions were observed on May 9, 2003, coming from a bright radio source at the galactic core known as Sagittarius A*, or SgrA*.

"Our data give us unprecedented information about what happens just outside the event horizon and let us test the predictions of general relativity," explained Daniel Rouan, a team member from Paris-Meudon Observatory in France. "The most striking result is an apparent 17-minute periodicity in the light curves of two of the detected flares. If this periodicity is caused by the motion of gas orbiting the black hole, the inevitable conclusion is that the black hole must be rotating rapidly."

The rapid variability seen in the infrared data indicates that the region around the event horizon must have chaotic properties very much like those seen in thunderstorms or solar flares, the researchers said. In fact, wrote Narayan in his Nature commentary, the flares could be created by the same magnetic phenomenon, magnetic reconnection, that produces bright flares on the sun.

"The beauty of having a flaring source such as Sgr A* is that each flare provides a new and independent view of the underlying physical processes," he wrote. "So by collecting and studying data on many flares, we may learn much more than from a steady source."

Genzel’s coauthors, in addition to Eckart and Rouan, are Rainer Schödel, T. Ott and B. Aschenbach of the Max-Planck Institute, T. Alexander of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, and F. Lacombe of the Observatoire de Paris.

Robert Sanders | UC Berkeley News
Further information:
http://www.berkeley.edu/news/media/releases/2003/10/29_flares.shtml
http://www.berkeley.edu/news/media/releases/2002/10/23_bhole.html

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht APEX takes a glimpse into the heart of darkness
25.05.2018 | Max-Planck-Institut für Radioastronomie

nachricht First chip-scale broadband optical system that can sense molecules in the mid-IR
24.05.2018 | Columbia University School of Engineering and Applied Science

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: Powerful IT security for the car of the future – research alliance develops new approaches

The more electronics steer, accelerate and brake cars, the more important it is to protect them against cyber-attacks. That is why 15 partners from industry and academia will work together over the next three years on new approaches to IT security in self-driving cars. The joint project goes by the name Security For Connected, Autonomous Cars (SecForCARs) and has funding of €7.2 million from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research. Infineon is leading the project.

Vehicles already offer diverse communication interfaces and more and more automated functions, such as distance and lane-keeping assist systems. At the same...

Im Focus: Molecular switch will facilitate the development of pioneering electro-optical devices

A research team led by physicists at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) has developed molecular nanoswitches that can be toggled between two structurally different states using an applied voltage. They can serve as the basis for a pioneering class of devices that could replace silicon-based components with organic molecules.

The development of new electronic technologies drives the incessant reduction of functional component sizes. In the context of an international collaborative...

Im Focus: LZH showcases laser material processing of tomorrow at the LASYS 2018

At the LASYS 2018, from June 5th to 7th, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) will be showcasing processes for the laser material processing of tomorrow in hall 4 at stand 4E75. With blown bomb shells the LZH will present first results of a research project on civil security.

At this year's LASYS, the LZH will exhibit light-based processes such as cutting, welding, ablation and structuring as well as additive manufacturing for...

Im Focus: Self-illuminating pixels for a new display generation

There are videos on the internet that can make one marvel at technology. For example, a smartphone is casually bent around the arm or a thin-film display is rolled in all directions and with almost every diameter. From the user's point of view, this looks fantastic. From a professional point of view, however, the question arises: Is that already possible?

At Display Week 2018, scientists from the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research IAP will be demonstrating today’s technological possibilities and...

Im Focus: Explanation for puzzling quantum oscillations has been found

So-called quantum many-body scars allow quantum systems to stay out of equilibrium much longer, explaining experiment | Study published in Nature Physics

Recently, researchers from Harvard and MIT succeeded in trapping a record 53 atoms and individually controlling their quantum state, realizing what is called a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

In focus: Climate adapted plants

25.05.2018 | Event News

Save the date: Forum European Neuroscience – 07-11 July 2018 in Berlin, Germany

02.05.2018 | Event News

Invitation to the upcoming "Current Topics in Bioinformatics: Big Data in Genomics and Medicine"

13.04.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

In focus: Climate adapted plants

25.05.2018 | Event News

Flow probes from the 3D printer

25.05.2018 | Machine Engineering

Less is more? Gene switch for healthy aging found

25.05.2018 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>