Scientists find black hole 'missing link'

September 17, 2008
Artist's impression of material falling into a super-massive black hole together with the average shape of the periodic X-ray signal from REJ1034+396. Credit: Aurore Simonnet, Sonoma State University

Scientists at Durham University have found the "missing link" between small and super-massive black holes.

For the first time the researchers have discovered that a strong X-ray pulse is emitting from a giant black hole in a galaxy 500 million light years from Earth.

The pulse has been created by gas being sucked by gravity on to the black hole at the centre of the REJ1034+396 galaxy.

X-ray pulses are common among smaller black holes, but the Durham research is the first to identify this activity in a super-massive black hole. Most galaxies, including the Milky Way, are believed to contain super-massive black holes at their centres.

The researchers, who publish their findings in the prestigious scientific journal Nature today (Thursday, September 18), say their discovery will increase the understanding of how gas behaves before falling on to a black hole as it feeds and develops.

Astronomers have been studying black holes for decades and are able to "see" them due to the fact that gas gets extremely hot and emits X-rays before it is swallowed completely and is lost forever.

Using Europe's powerful X-ray satellite, XMM-Newton, they found that X-rays are being emitted as a regular signal from the super-massive black hole. The frequency of the pulse is related to the size of the black hole.

Dr Marek Gierlinski, in the Department of Physics, at Durham University, said: "Such signals are a well known feature of smaller black holes in our Galaxy when gas is pulled from a companion star.

"The really interesting thing is that we have now established a link between these light-weight black holes and those millions of times as heavy as our Sun.

"Scientists have been looking for such behaviour for the past 20 years and our discovery helps us begin to understand more about the activity around such black holes as they grow."

Durham's scientists hope future research will tell them why some super-massive black holes show this behaviour while others do not.

Source: Durham University

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11 comments

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earls
2.3 / 5 (3) Sep 17, 2008
Why does the gas (plasma) have to enter the black hole and disappear forever? I postulate the gas doesn't even reach the hole but instead vaporizes into radiation.
Bazz
1 / 5 (3) Sep 17, 2008
I postulale that your theory would sound amusing to steven.
earls
2.8 / 5 (5) Sep 17, 2008
so would walking
brant
2.6 / 5 (5) Sep 17, 2008
Actually, I would have to agree with earls9....

Blackholes are a figment.
xen_uno
4.3 / 5 (6) Sep 17, 2008
... of what? Explain the apparent wide range of masses that this invisible class of objects can possess. Some (or most) of the matter must reach the hole, or be forever locked in it's gravitational grip, therefore contributing to the mass of the hole.
earls
1.5 / 5 (2) Sep 18, 2008
Black Holes may be viewed as pure energy, sure you can assign a "mass" to them based on E=MC2, but it doesn't mean they're a physical object. The mass is stored in the galactic "debris" rotating around the Black Hole. As you move towards the center, mass decreases and energy spikes.

Even if I am absolutely incorrect in regards to "appearance," it is (to me) pure non-sense to think that matter (plasma) could maintain its composition under such extreme forces.

It seems much more likely a BH would radiate its energy (mass) away by accelerating the mass around it which comes too close... Instead of the multi-layered paradoxes we're presented with today.

A "stand-alone" Black Hole however could be used as evidence I am incorrect. I'm under the impression they are only found in galaxies and quasars.
smiffy
2 / 5 (1) Sep 18, 2008
I just wish that they could have said how they think that a supermassive black hole could generate a rhythmic radiation.

Is a binary system of supermassive black holes too far-fetched?
smiffy
5 / 5 (1) Sep 19, 2008
If most galaxies have black holes at their centres and galaxies merging is a common enough occurrence then what else can happen but that the black holes enter a binary or multiple system?

Three or more would be quite interesting.
Bazz
1 / 5 (1) Sep 19, 2008
What i meant to say is that speculating about something that isnt known is best left to the ones that have the relevant knowledge.

There are only a few of them and they dont hang in this place.

If you want to comment on the article- keep in mind that all science news is a simplified version of the research made understandable for average humans.

Coming up with your own theory would be very amusing to an expert on the subject.

Compare it to someone who claims he has built a working fusionreactor in his garage.
Bazz
1 / 5 (1) Sep 19, 2008
Smiffy as far as i know thats what is expected to happen eventually the two black holes would merge into one.Three blackholes are possible too in theory.

None of that would be directly observable as blackholes can only be detected by external effect.Many unknowns too, wikipedia is always a good start to get a general idea.
smiffy
not rated yet Sep 22, 2008
I've got to say that the idea of two supermassive black holes merging is mind boggling. The odds of two singularities finding each other exactly is extremely remote, if not practically impossible. I could only guess at whether it's mathematically possible.

However if they did what would you expect to observe? Would they disappear into each other without the least whisper? Or would there be a real apocalyptic fireworks show? What would happen to all that kinetic energy if they met head-on?

There's speculation, wild speculation, and then there's black holes merging.

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