Home Science New space observatory helps solve mystery involving enormous black holes

New space observatory helps solve mystery involving enormous black holes

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Will Dunham

Washington – Most galaxies are built around massive black holes. Many of these are relatively docile, like those at the center of the Milky Way, but some are fierce, devouring surrounding matter and releasing huge, fiery jets of high-energy particles into space. .

The recently deployed Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE.

Researchers examined an exotic object called a blazer at the center of a large elliptical galaxy named Markarian 501, about 460 million light-years from Earth in the direction of the constellation Hercules. A light year is the distance that light travels in one year, 5.9 trillion miles (9.5 trillion km).

Blazers are a subset of celestial bodies called quasars, which are driven by supermassive black holes that feed gas and other matter at the center of galaxies and send two jets of particles into space in opposite directions. Blazer is oriented so that one of her two jets from our point of view on Earth is directly at us.

“Blasers are the most persistently bright objects in the observable universe. They are the most energetic. They have the largest and most terrifying black holes.” said to ESOlead author of a study published in Nature.

Scientists have long sought to understand how jets fired from blazers become so bright and how the particles within them behave. The jet from this blazer extends to a distance of about 1 million light years.

IXPEwas launched in December last year as a joint effort with the US Space Agency. NASA and the Italian Space Agency measure the brightness and polarization (characteristics of light including the direction of the electromagnetic waves) of X-ray light from cosmic sources. Various phenomena, such as shock waves and turbulence, exhibit polarization ‘signatures’.

Researchers have found evidence that particles in the jet are energized when they collide with shock waves propagating outward inside the flow, and emit X-rays as they accelerate. Shock waves travel faster than the speed of sound in a medium like air, as when a supersonic jet flies through the Earth’s atmosphere, or as in this case through a region with particles and a magnetic field called plasma. Generated when moving.

“The light we see from the jet comes from electrons,” said Alan Marsher, an astrophysicist at Boston University and study co-author. “His X-rays, of the type observed in Markarian 501, only come from very high-energy electrons.”

The driving force behind this drama is a black hole. A black hole is a very dense object that has a gravitational pull so strong that not even light can escape. The supermassive black hole at the center of Markarian 501 has a mass about one billion times the mass of the Sun. This is about 200 times the mass of Sagittarius A*, the Milky Way’s supermassive black hole.

“Black holes are unique laboratories for studying fundamental physics in extreme conditions that cannot be replicated on Earth,” said Riodakis.

“But before we can use them as such, we need to understand all the physical processes that occur. I had several theories about how particles could be energized. IXPE For the first time, we were able to directly test our theory,” said Liodakis.

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