Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

ESA’s high-energy observatories spot doughnut-shaped cloud with a black-hole filling

21.07.2004


Using ESA’s Integral and XMM-Newton observatories, an international team of astronomers has found more evidence that massive black holes are surrounded by a doughnut-shaped gas cloud, called a torus. Depending on our line of sight, the torus can block the view of the black hole in the centre. The team looked `edge on’ into this doughnut to see features never before revealed in such a clarity.

Black holes are objects so compact and with gravity so strong that not even light can escape from them. Scientists think that `supermassive’ black holes are located in the cores of most galaxies, including our Milky Way galaxy. They can contain the mass of thousands of millions of suns, confined within a region no larger than our Solar System. They appear to be surrounded by a hot, thin disk of accreting gas and, farther out, the thick doughnut-shaped torus.

Depending on the inclination of the torus, it can hide the black hole and the hot accretion disc from the line of sight. Galaxies in which a torus blocks the light from the central accretion disc are called `Seyfert 2’ types and are usually faint to optical telescopes. Another theory, however, is that these galaxies appear rather faint because the central black hole is not actively accreting gas and the disc surrounding it is therefore faint.



An international team of astronomers led by Dr Volker Beckmann, Goddard Space Flight Center (Greenbelt, USA) has studied one of the nearest objects of this type, a spiral galaxy called NGC 4388, located 65 million light years away in the constellation Virgo. Since NGC 4388 is relatively close, and therefore unusually bright for its class, it is easier to study.

Astronomers often study black holes that are aligned face-on, thus avoiding the enshrouding torus. However, Beckmann’s group took the path less trodden and studied the central black hole by peering through the torus. With XMM-Newton and Integral, they could detect some of the X-rays and gamma rays, emitted by the accretion disc, which partially penetrate the torus. "By peering right into the torus, we see the black hole phenomenon in a whole new light, or lack of light, as the case may be here," Beckmann said.

Beckmann’s group saw how different processes around a black hole produce light at different wavelengths. For example, some of the gamma rays produced close to the black hole get absorbed by iron atoms in the torus and are re-emitted at a lower energy. This in fact is how the scientists knew they were seeing `reprocessed’ light farther out. Also, because of the line of sight towards NGC 4388, they knew this iron was from a torus on the same plane as the accretion disk, and not from gas clouds `above’ or `below’ the accretion disk.
This new view through the haze has provided valuable insight into the relationship between the black hole, its accretion disc and the doughnut, and supports the torus model in several ways.

Gas in the accretion disc close to the black hole reaches high speeds and temperatures (over 100 million degrees, hotter than the Sun) as it races toward the void. The gas radiates predominantly at high energies, in the X-ray wavelengths.

According to Beckmann, this light is able to escape the black hole because it is still outside of its border, but ultimately collides with matter in the torus. Some of it is absorbed; some of it is reflected at different wavelengths, like sunlight penetrating a cloud; and the very energetic gamma rays pierce through. "This torus is not as dense as a real doughnut or a true German Krapfen, but it is far hotter - up to a thousand degrees - and loaded with many more calories," Beckmann said.

The new observations also pinpoint the origin of the high-energy emission from NGC 4388. While the lower-energy X-rays seen by XMM-Newton appear to come from a diffuse emission, far away from the black hole, the higher-energy X-rays detected by Integral are directly related to the black hole activity.

The team could infer the doughnut’s structure and its distance from the black hole by virtue of light that was either reflected or completely absorbed. The torus itself appears to be several hundred light years from the black hole, although the observation could not gauge its diameter, from inside to outside.

The result marks the clearest observation of an obscured black hole in X-ray and gamma-ray `colours’, a span of energy nearly a million times wider than the window of visible light, from red to violet. Multi-wavelength studies are increasingly important to understanding black holes, as already demonstrated earlier this year. In May 2004, the European project known as the Astrophysical Virtual Observatory, in which ESA plays a major role, found 30 supermassive black holes that had previously escaped detection behind masking dust clouds.

Guido De Marchi | alfa
Further information:
http://www.esa.int

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Astronomers find unexpected, dust-obscured star formation in distant galaxy
24.03.2017 | University of Massachusetts at Amherst

nachricht Gravitational wave kicks monster black hole out of galactic core
24.03.2017 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

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: Giant Magnetic Fields in the Universe

Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.

The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.

Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...

Im Focus: Tracing down linear ubiquitination

Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.

Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...

Im Focus: Perovskite edges can be tuned for optoelectronic performance

Layered 2D material improves efficiency for solar cells and LEDs

In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...

Im Focus: Polymer-coated silicon nanosheets as alternative to graphene: A perfect team for nanoelectronics

Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.

Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...

Im Focus: Researchers Imitate Molecular Crowding in Cells

Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to simulate these confined natural conditions in artificial vesicles for the first time. As reported in the academic journal Small, the results are offering better insight into the development of nanoreactors and artificial organelles.

Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

International Land Use Symposium ILUS 2017: Call for Abstracts and Registration open

20.03.2017 | Event News

CONNECT 2017: International congress on connective tissue

14.03.2017 | Event News

ICTM Conference: Turbine Construction between Big Data and Additive Manufacturing

07.03.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Argon is not the 'dope' for metallic hydrogen

24.03.2017 | Materials Sciences

Astronomers find unexpected, dust-obscured star formation in distant galaxy

24.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Gravitational wave kicks monster black hole out of galactic core

24.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>