Space Telescopes Reveal Secrets of Turbulent Black Hole
A fleet of spacecraft including NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has uncovered
unprecedented details in the surroundings of a supermassive black hole.
Observations reveal huge bullets of gas being driven away from the gravitational
monster and a corona of very hot gas hovering above the disk of matter that is
falling into the black hole.
This image of the distant active galaxy Markarian 509 was taken in April 2007 with the Hubble Space Telescope's Wide Field Camera 2. Credit: NASA, ESA, G. Kriss (STScI), and J. de Plaa (SRON Netherlands Institute for Space Research); Acknowledgment: B. Peterson (Ohio State University)
› View larger
A team led by Jelle Kaastra of SRON Netherlands Institute for Space Research made
use of data from ESA's XMM-Newton and INTEGRAL spacecraft (which study X-rays and
gamma rays, respectively), the Hubble Space Telescope (for ultraviolet observations
with the COS instrument), and NASA's Chandra (X-ray) Observatory and Swift
The black hole that the team chose to study lies at the heart of the galaxy
Markarian 509 (Mrk 509), nearly 500 million light-years away. This black hole is
colossal, containing 300 million times the mass of the Sun, and is growing more
massive every day as it continues to feed on surrounding matter, which glows brightly
as it forms a rotating disk around the black hole. Mrk 509 was chosen because it is
known to vary in brightness, which indicates that the flow of matter is turbulent.
The above image of Mrk 509 was taken in April 2007 with Hubble's Wide Field Planetary
Camera 2. But using a large number of telescopes that are sensitive to different
wavelengths of light gave astronomers unprecedented coverage running from the
infrared, through the visible, ultraviolet, X-rays, and into the gamma-ray band.
In this artist's illustration, turbulent winds of gas swirl around a black hole. Some of the gas is spiraling inward toward the black hole, but another part is blown away. Artwork Credit: NASA, and M. Weiss (Chandra X -ray Center)
› View larger
The study is presented in a series of seven papers in the journal Astronomy and
Astrophysics, with more expected to be published in coming months.
A full account of the research can be read on the SRON website at http://www.sron.nl