A team of Australian and American astronomers have been studying nearby galaxy M83 and have found a new superpowered small black hole, named MQ1, the first object of its kind to be studied in this much detail.
Astronomers have found a few compact objects that are as powerful as MQ1, but have not been able to work out the size of the black hole contained within them until now.
The team observed the MQ1 system with multiple telescopes and discovered that it is a standard-sized small black hole, rather than a slightly bigger version that was theorised to account for all its power.
Curtin University senior research fellow Dr Roberto Soria, who is part of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) and led the team investigating MQ1, said it was important to understand how stars were formed, how they evolved and how they died, within a spiral shaped galaxy like M83.
“MQ1 is classed as a microquasar – a black hole surrounded by a bubble of hot gas, which is heated by two jets just outside the black hole, powerfully shooting out energy in opposite directions, acting like cosmic sandblasters pushing out on the surrounding gas,” Dr Soria said.
Giant elliptical galaxies are the most puzzling type of galaxy in the Universe. Since they mysteriously shut down their star-forming activity and remain home only to the longest-lived of their stars – which are low-mass ones and appear red – astronomers often call these galaxies ‘red and dead’.
Up until now, it was thought that red-and-dead galaxies were poor in cold gas – the vital raw material from which stars are born. While cold gas is abundant in spiral galaxies with lively star formation, the lack of it in giant ellipticals seemed to explain the absence of new stars.
Astronomers have long been debating the physical processes leading to the end of their star formation. They speculated that these galaxies somehow expelled the cold gas, or that they had simply used it all to form stars in the past. Although the reason was uncertain, one thing seemed to have been established: these galaxies are red and dead because they no longer possess the means to sustain the production of stars.
This view is being challenged by a new study based on data from ESA’s Herschel Space Observatory. The results are published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
“We looked at eight giant elliptical galaxies that nobody had looked at with Herschel before and we were delighted to find that, contrary to previous belief, six out of eight abound with cold gas”, explains Norbert Werner from Stanford University in California, USA, who led the study.
This is the first time that astronomers have seen large amounts of cold gas in red-and-dead galaxies that are not located at the centre of a massive galaxy cluster.
Enrico Ramirez-Ruiz uses computer simulations to explore the universe’s most violent events, so when the first detailed observations of a star being ripped apart by a black hole were reported in 2012 (Gezari et al., Nature), he was eager to compare the data with his simulations. He was also highly skeptical of one of the published conclusions: that the disrupted star was a rare helium star.
“I was sure it was a normal hydrogen star and we were just not understanding what’s going on,” said Ramirez-Ruiz, a professor of astronomy and astrophysics at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
In a paper accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal and available online at arXiv.org, Ramirez-Ruiz and his students explain what happens during the disruption of a normal sun-like star by a supermassive black hole, and they show why observers might fail to see evidence of the hydrogen in the star. First author and UCSC graduate student James Guillochon (now an Einstein Fellow at Harvard University) and undergraduate Haik Manukian worked with Ramirez-Ruiz to run a series of detailed computer simulations of encounters between stars and black holes.
Spanish scientists have discovered the first binary system ever known to consist of a black hole and a ‘spinning’ star —or more accurately, a Be-type star. Although predicted by theory, none had previously been found. The observations that led to the discovery were performed with the Liverpool and Mercator telescopes at the Observatorio del Roque de los Muchachos (Canary Islands, Spain). The discovery is published today in Nature.
Be-type stars are quite common across the Universe. In our Galaxy alone more than 80 of them are known in binary systems together with neutron stars. “Their distinctive property is their strong centrifugal force: they rotate very fast, close to their break-up speed. It is like they were cosmic spinning tops” says Jorge Casares from the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (IAC) and La Laguna University (ULL). Casares is the lead author and an expert in stellar-mass black holes (he presented the first solid proof of their existence back in 1992).
The newly discovered black hole orbits the Be star known as MWC 656, located in the constellation Lacerta (the Lizard) —8,500 light years from Earth. The Be star rotates so fast that its surface speed exceeds 1 million kilometres per hour.
Two new views from NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, showcase the telescope’s talent for spying objects near and far. One image shows the energized remains of a dead star, a structure nicknamed the “Hand of God” after its resemblance to a hand. Another image shows distant black holes buried in blankets of dust.
“NuSTAR’s unique viewpoint, in seeing the highest-energy X-rays, is showing us well-studied objects and regions in a whole new light,” said Fiona Harrison, the mission’s principal investigator at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif.
NuSTAR launched into space June 13, 2012, on a mission to explore the high-energy X-ray universe. It is observing black holes, dead and exploded stars and other extreme objects in our own Milky Way galaxy and beyond.
The European Research Council (ERC) has awarded 14 Million Euros to a team of European astrophysicists to construct the first accurate image of a black hole. The team will test the predictions of current theories of gravity, including Einstein’s theory of General Relativity, The funding is provided in the form of a Synergy Grant, the largest and most competitive type of grant of the ERC.
The team led by three principal investigators, Heino Falcke, Radboud University Nijmegen, Michael Kramer, Max-Planck-Institut für Radioastronomie, and Luciano Rezzolla, Goethe University in Frankfurt, hopes to measure the shadow cast by the event horizon of the black hole in the center of the Milky Way, find new radiopulsars near this black hole, and combine these measurements with advanced computer simulations of the behaviour of light and matter around black holes as predicted by theories of gravity. They will combine several telescopes around the globe to peer into the heart of our own Galaxy, which hosts a mysterious radio source, called Sagittarius A* and which is considered to be the central supermassive black hole.
A new study using observations from a novel instrument provides the best look to date at magnetic fields at the heart of gamma-ray bursts, the most energetic explosions in the universe. An international team of astronomers from Britain, Slovenia and Italy has glimpsed the infrastructure of a burst’s high-speed jet.
Gamma-ray bursts are the most luminous explosions in the cosmos. Most are thought to be triggered when the core of a massive star runs out of nuclear fuel, collapses under its own weight, and forms a black hole. The black hole then drives jets of particles that drill all the way through the collapsing star and erupt into space at nearly the speed of light.
On March 8, 2012, NASA’s Swift satellite detected a 100-second pulse of gamma rays from a source in the constellation Ursa Minor. The spacecraft immediately forwarded the location of the gamma-ray burst, dubbed GRB 120308A, to observatories around the globe.
The world’s largest fully autonomous robotic optical telescope, the 2-meter Liverpool Telescope located at Roque de los Muchachos Observatory on La Palma in the Canary Islands, automatically responded to Swift’s notification.
“Just four minutes after it received Swift’s trigger, the telescope found the burst’s visible afterglow and began making thousands of measurements,” said lead researcher Carole Mundell, who heads the gamma-ray burst team at the Astrophysics Research Institute at Liverpool John Moores University in the U.K.
Quantum entanglement is one of the more bizarre theories to come out of the study of quantum mechanics — so strange, in fact, that Albert Einstein famously referred to it as “spooky action at a distance.”
Essentially, entanglement involves two particles, each occupying multiple states at once — a condition referred to as superposition. For example, both particles may simultaneously spin clockwise and counterclockwise. But neither has a definite state until one is measured, causing the other particle to instantly assume a corresponding state. The resulting correlations between the particles are preserved, even if they reside on opposite ends of the universe.
But what enables particles to communicate instantaneously — and seemingly faster than the speed of light — over such vast distances? Earlier this year, physicists proposed an answer in the form of “wormholes,” or gravitational tunnels. The group showed that by creating two entangled black holes, then pulling them apart, they formed a wormhole — essentially a “shortcut” through the universe — connecting the distant black holes.
Now an MIT physicist has found that, looked at through the lens of string theory, the creation of two entangled quarks — the building blocks of matter — simultaneously gives rise to a wormhole connecting the pair.
The theoretical results bolster the relatively new and exciting idea that the laws of gravity holding together the universe may not be fundamental, but arise from something else: quantum entanglement.
On April 27, a blast of light from a dying star in a distant galaxy became the focus of astronomers around the world. The explosion, known as a gamma-ray burst and designated GRB 130427A, tops the charts as one of the brightest ever seen.
A trio of NASA satellites, working in concert with ground-based robotic telescopes, captured never-before-seen details that challenge current theoretical understandings of how gamma-ray bursts work.
“We expect to see an event like this only once or twice a century, so we’re fortunate it happened when we had the appropriate collection of sensitive space telescopes with complementary capabilities available to see it,” said Paul Hertz, director of NASA’s Astrophysics Division in Washington.
Gamma-ray bursts are the most luminous explosions in the cosmos, thought to be triggered when the core of a massive star runs out of nuclear fuel, collapses under its own weight, and forms a black hole. The black hole then drives jets of particles that drill all the way through the collapsing star and erupt into space at nearly the speed of light.
Astronomers have long sought strong evidence that Sagittarius A* (Sgr A*), the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way, is producing a jet of high-energy particles. Finally they have found it, in new results from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and the National Science Foundation’s Very Large Array (VLA) radio telescope.
Previous studies, using a variety of telescopes, suggested there was a jet, but these reports — including the orientation of the suspected jets — often contradicted each other and were not considered definitive.
“For decades astronomers have looked for a jet associated with the Milky Way’s black hole. Our new observations make the strongest case yet for such a jet,” said Zhiyuan Li of Nanjing University in China, lead author of a study appearing in an upcoming edition of The Astrophysical Journal and available online now.