Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

ESA steps towards a great black hole census

08.09.2006
Astronomers using ESA's orbiting gamma-ray observatory, Integral, have taken an important step towards estimating how many black holes there are in the Universe.

An international team, lead by Eugene Churazov and Rashid Sunyaev, Space Research Institute, Moscow, and involving scientists from all groups of the Integral consortium used the Earth as a giant shield to watch the number of tell-tale gamma rays from the distant Universe dwindle to zero, as our planet blocked their view.


Integral's black hole census

"Point Integral anywhere in space and it will measure gamma rays," says Pietro Ubertini, INAF, Italy and Principal Investigator on Integral's gamma-ray imager. Most of those gamma rays do not come from nearby sources but from celestial objects so far away that they cannot yet be distinguished as individual sources. This distant gamma-ray emission creates a perpetual glow that bathes the Universe.

Most astronomers believe that the unseen objects are supermassive black holes, millions or billions of times heavier than the Sun and each sitting at the centre of a galaxy. As the black holes swallow matter, the swirling gases release X-rays and gamma rays. Accurately measuring the glow, known as the X-ray and gamma-ray background, is the first step towards calculating how many black holes are contributing to it and how far away in the Universe they are located.

The new Integral observations were made during January and February 2006 and provide highly accurate data on the gamma-ray background. The key to success was using the Earth as a shield.

Allowing the Earth to enter Integral's field of view goes against the standard set of nominal observations for the satellite, because the optical devices needed to determine the spacecraft’s attitude would be blinded by the bright Earth. So, this operation required remarkable efforts from the ISOC/MOC teams operating the mission, who had to rely on alternative spacecraft control mechanisms. But the risk was worth it: by measuring the decrease of the gamma-ray flux once the Earth had blocked Integral's view and by making a model of the Earth’s atmospheric emission, the astronomers precisely gauged the gamma-ray background.

Another bonus of the Integral observations is that the observatory's complementary instruments allowed the strength of both X-rays and gamma rays to be measured simultaneously. In the past, different satellites have had to measure the different energies of X-rays and gamma rays, leaving astronomers with the task of having to piece the results together like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.

It is not just the overall glow that Integral has seen. Before the satellite's launch, only a few dozen celestial objects were observed in gamma rays. Now Integral sees about 300 individual sources in our Galaxy and around 100 of the brightest supermassive black holes in other galaxies. These are the tip of the iceberg. Astronomers believe there are tens of millions of active black holes spread throughout space, all contributing to the gamma-ray background. From earlier observations in the softer X-ray band it is known that the soft background radiation is almost entirely populated by Active Galactic Nuclei (AGN). So it is highly likely that these objects are also responsible here at higher Integral energies, even if this is not proven yet.

The next step is for astronomers to programme computer models to calculate how the emission from this unseen population of black holes merges to give the observed glow. These computer models will predict the number and distance of the black holes, and provide insights into the way they behave at the centre of young, middle-aged and old galaxies. Meanwhile, the Integral team will continue to refine their measurements of the perplexing gamma-ray background.

Christoph Winkler | alfa
Further information:
http://www.esa.int/SPECIALS/Integral/SEMKV66LARE_0.html

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Nanostructures taste the rainbow
29.06.2017 | California Institute of Technology

nachricht X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy under real ambient pressure conditions
28.06.2017 | National Institutes of Natural Sciences

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: Making Waves

Computer scientists use wave packet theory to develop realistic, detailed water wave simulations in real time. Their results will be presented at this year’s SIGGRAPH conference.

Think about the last time you were at a lake, river, or the ocean. Remember the ripples of the water, the waves crashing against the rocks, the wake following...

Im Focus: Can we see monkeys from space? Emerging technologies to map biodiversity

An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.

Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...

Im Focus: Climate satellite: Tracking methane with robust laser technology

Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.

Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...

Im Focus: How protons move through a fuel cell

Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.

As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...

Im Focus: A unique data centre for cosmological simulations

Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.

With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Plants are networkers

19.06.2017 | Event News

Digital Survival Training for Executives

13.06.2017 | Event News

Global Learning Council Summit 2017

13.06.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Nanostructures taste the rainbow

29.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

New technique unveils 'matrix' inside tissues and tumors

29.06.2017 | Life Sciences

Cystic fibrosis alters the structure of mucus in airways

29.06.2017 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>