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Chandra "Hears" a Supermassive Black Hole in Perseus
09.09.03
 
Chandra Xray observation of the central region of the Perseus galaxy cluster. X-ray Image: NASA/CXC/IoA/A.Fabian et al. Image left: Chandra Xray observation of the central region of the Perseus galaxy cluster. X-ray Image: NASA/CXC/IoA/A.Fabian et al.

A 53-hour Chandra observation of the central region of the Perseus galaxy cluster (above left) has revealed wavelike features (below right) that appear to be sound waves. The pitch of the sound waves translates into the note of B flat, 57 octaves below middle-C. This frequency is over a million billion times deeper than the limits of human hearing, so the sound is much too deep to be heard.

Scientists believe these sound waves are produced by explosive events occurring around a supermassive black hole (bright white spot) in Perseus A, the huge galaxy at the center of the cluster.

The image also shows two vast, bubble-shaped cavities, each about 50 thousand light years wide, extending away from the central supermassive black hole. These cavities, which are bright sources of radio waves, are not really empty, but filled with high-energy particles and magnetic fields. They push the hot X-ray emitting gas aside, creating sound waves that sweep across hundreds of thousands of light years.

The detection of intergalactic sound waves may solve the long-standing mystery of why the hot gas in the central regions of the Perseus cluster has not cooled over the past ten billion years to form trillions of stars.

Chandra X-ray Observatory revealed wavelike features that appear to be sound waves. X-ray Image: NASA/CXC/IoA/A.Fabian et al. Image right: Chandra X-ray Observatory revealed wavelike features that appear to be sound waves. X-ray Image: NASA/CXC/IoA/A.Fabian et al.

As sounds waves move through gas, they are eventually absorbed and their energy is converted to heat. In this way, the sound waves from the supermassive black hole in Perseus A could keep the cluster gas hot.

The explosive activity occurring around the supermassive black hole is probably caused by large amounts of gas falling into it, perhaps from smaller galaxies that are being cannibalized by Perseus A. The dark blobs in the central region of the Chandra image may be fragments of such a doomed galaxy.

Animation of Sound Waves Generated in Perseus Cluster

This animation shows how sound waves are generated in the Perseus cluster from its central supermassive black hole. The gas that fills the cluster of galaxies is shown in red. The animation then zooms in to show the cluster's central black hole, which is seen as a white point. Next, blue-white jets of high-energy particles and magnetic fields blow out from the black hole, forming dark cavities in the cluster gas. When these cavities slow down, sound waves break off and travel away from the cavities. The animation then dissolves into Chandra's X-ray image of the cluster.

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For more information about Chandra and the Perseus galaxy cluster, visit:
To view the Chandra Photo Album. visit:
For more information about the Chandra mission, visit:

 
 
Animation: NASA/CXC/A.Hobart
X-ray Image: NASA/CXC/IoA/A.Fabian et al.