An international team led by an Edinburgh astronomer have discovered that by studying polarised light from black holes they can focus much more closely on what exactly is going on around them. The work is published this week in the monthly notices of the Royal Astronomical Society on November 11th.
Studying black holes at the centre of galaxies is difficult. A huge amount of material is falling on to the centre in an active black hole system, and this falling material is thought to power the black hole, but scientists still dont understand this powering mechanism. One critical reason is that these black holes are just too far away for astronomers to isolate the light from them - or more accurately, the light from the compact region where the black holes are actually producing their energy.
However, Kishimoto at the University of Edinburgh and the international team of Antonucci at UC Santa Barbara, Boisson at Paris Observatory, and Blaes also at UC Santa Barbara, have used the Keck I telescope in Hawaii and European Southern Observatorys Very Large Telescope in Chile, to do this isolation of the light. They have looked at a small part of the light emitted from black holes - light that has been scattered as it passes through the clouds very nearby. This scattered light can cleverly be picked up by looking through a polaroid filter just like the lens of polaroid sunglasses, which essentially blocks the unwanted light from elsewhere in the galaxy. The scattered light is polarised so the light waves all line up in the same direction and can pass through the Polaroid filter, but light from the surrounding area which is not polarised is excluded by the filter.
Julia Maddock | alfa
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