Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

VLBA locates superenergetic bursts near giant black hole

06.07.2009
Worldwide telescope collaboration pinpoints mysterious origin of extremely energetic gamma rays coming from giant galaxy's core

Using a worldwide combination of diverse telescopes, astronomers have discovered that a giant galaxy's bursts of very high energy gamma rays are coming from a region very close to the supermassive black hole at its core.

The discovery provides important new information about the mysterious workings of the powerful "engines" in the centers of innumerable galaxies throughout the Universe.

The galaxy M87, 50 million light-years from Earth, harbors at its center a black hole more than six billion times more massive than the Sun. Black holes are concentrations of matter so dense that not even light can escape their gravitational pull. The black hole is believed to draw material from its surroundings -- material that, as it falls toward the black hole, forms a tightly-rotating disk.

Processes near this "accretion disk," powered by the immense gravitational energy of the black hole, propel energetic material outward for thousands of light-years. This produces the "jets" seen emerging from many galaxies. In 1998, astronomers found that M87 also was emitting flares of gamma rays a trillion times more energetic than visible light.

However, the telescopes that discovered these bursts of very high energy gamma rays could not determine exactly where in the galaxy they originated. In 2007 and 2008, the astronomers using these gamma-ray telescopes combined forces with a team using the National Science Foundation's continent-wide Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA), a radio telescope with extremely high resolving power, or ability to see fine detail.

"Combining the gamma-ray observations with the supersharp radio 'vision' of the VLBA allowed us to see that the gamma rays are coming from a region very near the black hole itself," said Craig Walker, of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO).

"Pinning down this location addresses what was an open question and provides important clues for understanding how such highly energetic emissions are produced in the jets of active galaxies," said Matthias Beilicke, of Washington University in St. Louis, MO.

The gamma-ray flares from the galaxy were monitored by systems of large telescopes designed to detect faint flashes of blue light that result when gamma rays enter the Earth's atmosphere. Data from sensitive cameras in these systems can allow astronomers to infer the energy of the gamma rays and the direction from which they came. Their directional information, however, is not precise enough to narrow down the gamma-ray-emitting region within the galaxy.

The VLBA offered a millionfold improvement in resolving power, allowing the scientists to determine that the gamma rays are coming from the immediate vicinity of the black hole. Though gamma rays are the most energetic form of electromagnetic radiation and radio waves the least energetic, both often arise from the same regions. This was shown clearly when M87's most energetic gamma-ray flares were accompanied by the largest flare of radio waves seen from that galaxy by the VLBA.

The radio flare began at about the time of the gamma-ray flares, but continued to increase in brightness for at least two months. "This tells us that energetic material burst out very close to the black hole, causing the gamma rays to be emitted and the radio flare to begin. As that material traveled down the jet, expanding and losing energy, the gamma-ray emission ceased, but the radio continued to increase in brightness," Walker explained. "The VLBA showed us with great precision where the radio emission came from, so we know the gamma rays came from closer in toward the black hole," he added.

M87 is the largest galaxy in the Virgo Cluster of galaxies, at the center of a supercluster of galaxies that includes the Local Group, of which our own Milky Way is a member. The black hole in M87 has an "event horizon," from which matter cannot escape, roughly twice the size of our Solar System, or a tiny fraction of the size of the entire galaxy. The new measurements indicate that the gamma rays are coming from an area no larger than 50 times the size of the event horizon.

The telescope systems that detected the gamma-ray flares are the VERITAS array in Arizona, the H.E.S.S. system in Namibia, Africa, and the MAGIC system on La Palma in the Canary Islands.

The VLBA is a system of ten radio-telescope antennas stretching from Hawaii to the Caribbean, operated by the NRAO from Socorro, New Mexico. The VLBA offers resolving power equal to the ability to read a newspaper in New York while standing in Los Angeles.

Walker and Beilicke worked with Fred Davies of NRAO and New Mexico Tech, Henric Krawczynski of Washington University, Phil Hardee of the University of Alabama, Bill Junor of Los Alamos National Laboratory, Chun Ly of UCLA, and large research teams from VERITAS, H.E.S.S., and MAGIC. The scientists reported their findings in the July 2 online edition of the journal Science.

The National Radio Astronomy Observatory is a facility of the National Science Foundation, operated under cooperative agreement by Associated Universities, Inc.

Dave Finley | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.nrao.edu

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Further Improvement of Qubit Lifetime for Quantum Computers
09.12.2016 | Forschungszentrum Jülich

nachricht Electron highway inside crystal
09.12.2016 | Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg

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: Electron highway inside crystal

Physicists of the University of Würzburg have made an astonishing discovery in a specific type of topological insulators. The effect is due to the structure of the materials used. The researchers have now published their work in the journal Science.

Topological insulators are currently the hot topic in physics according to the newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung. Only a few weeks ago, their importance was...

Im Focus: Significantly more productivity in USP lasers

In recent years, lasers with ultrashort pulses (USP) down to the femtosecond range have become established on an industrial scale. They could advance some applications with the much-lauded “cold ablation” – if that meant they would then achieve more throughput. A new generation of process engineering that will address this issue in particular will be discussed at the “4th UKP Workshop – Ultrafast Laser Technology” in April 2017.

Even back in the 1990s, scientists were comparing materials processing with nanosecond, picosecond and femtosesecond pulses. The result was surprising:...

Im Focus: Shape matters when light meets atom

Mapping the interaction of a single atom with a single photon may inform design of quantum devices

Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...

Im Focus: Novel silicon etching technique crafts 3-D gradient refractive index micro-optics

A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.

Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...

Im Focus: Quantum Particles Form Droplets

In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.

“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ICTM Conference 2017: Production technology for turbomachine manufacturing of the future

16.11.2016 | Event News

Innovation Day Laser Technology – Laser Additive Manufacturing

01.11.2016 | Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

Researchers identify potentially druggable mutant p53 proteins that promote cancer growth

09.12.2016 | Life Sciences

Scientists produce a new roadmap for guiding development & conservation in the Amazon

09.12.2016 | Ecology, The Environment and Conservation

Satellites, airport visibility readings shed light on troops' exposure to air pollution

09.12.2016 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>