NASA-Led Study Explains Decades Of Black Hole Observations


A new study by astronomers at NASA, Johns Hopkins University and the Rochester Institute of Technology confirms long-held suspicions about how stellar-mass black holes produce their highest-energy light.

“Our work traces the complex motions, particle interactions and turbulent magnetic fields in billion-degree gas on the threshold of a black hole, one of the most extreme physical environments in the universe,” said lead researcher Jeremy Schnittman, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

By analyzing a supercomputer simulation of gas flowing into a black hole, the team finds they can reproduce a range of important X-ray features long observed in active black holes.

Gas falling toward a black hole initially orbits around it and then accumulates into a flattened disk. The gas stored in this disk gradually spirals inward and becomes greatly compressed and heated as it nears the center. Ultimately reaching temperatures up to 20 million degrees Fahrenheit (12 million C) — some 2,000 times hotter than the sun’s surface — the gas shines brightly in low-energy, or soft, X-rays.

For more than 40 years, however, observations have shown that black holes also produce considerable amounts of “hard” X-rays, light with energy tens to hundreds of times greater than soft X-rays. This higher-energy light implies the presence of correspondingly hotter gas, with temperatures reaching billions of degrees.

Full Story and Animation: http://www.nasa.gov/topics/universe/features/black-hole-study.html

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