Mysterious X-rays from a Nearby Galaxy

November 13, 2009
An optical image if the active galaxy NGC 1365; its nucleus contains a massive black hole that emits a strange mix of X-ray radiation. Credit: SSRO-South

(PhysOrg.com) -- The nucleus of an active galaxy, an AGN, contains a massive black hole that is vigorously accreting material. In the process it typically ejects jets of particles and radiates brightly at many wavelengths, in particular at X-ray wavelengths.

It turns out that nearly half of all AGN seem to have very thick gas clouds near their nuclei, a conclusion reached because only high energy X-rays are seen coming from them; the usual explanation is that gas clouds absorb the lower energy X-ray emission, while higher energy radiation is relatively unaffected.

X-ray AGN are important to astronomers not only because they provide new insights into black holes and their surroundings, but because the X-rays are often time variable, suggesting that these clouds of gas are in motion around the nucleus. These kinematics in turn provide information on how the AGN and its galaxy formed and evolved.

The galaxy NGC 1365 is about sixty light-years away. It is notable for having rapid variations in its low energy X-rays -- timescales of just days, suggesting that solar-system-sized gas clouds near the nucleus are moving across our view of the AGN, possibly part of a torus around the nucleus. SAO astronomers Guido Risaliti, Martin Elvis, Pepi Fabbiano, and Junfeng Wang have used a suite of orbiting X-ray telescopes to discover and track a very curious property of NGC 1365: its high energy X-ray emission is about twice that expected compared to the low energy emission, even when the low energy radiation is at its brightest.

The scientists offer three possible explanations for this so-far unique situation: the AGN has yet another layer of absorbing gas but one that does not vary (but where did it come from), there is a second black hole contributing its own X-rays (but no other galaxy of this type has two such ), or the shape of the absorber has a particular, complex geometry (which seems very artificial). Whatever the final solution, the new paper sheds light on the complex environment that can exist around active galactic nuclei.

Provided by Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (news : web)

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9 comments

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googly
not rated yet Nov 13, 2009
"The galaxy NGC 1365 is about sixty light-years away."

Considering the galaxy closest to the Milky Way, Andromeda, is about 2.5 million ly away, this is an error.
Ensa
not rated yet Nov 13, 2009
The galaxy NGC 1365 is about sixty light-years away....

Really?

hah! Googly got there first - by 18 seconds.......... :)

googly
not rated yet Nov 13, 2009
Hehe. And that's with me even registering an account first!
Au-Pu
1 / 5 (1) Nov 13, 2009
About 60 light years away is a rough approximation a more accurate estimate puts NGC 1365 at about 56 light years away.
The Andromeda galaxy is not our nearest.
It is the largest in what is termed "The Local Group" our galaxy the Milky Way galaxy is the next largest in this group
Incidentlly the Andromeda galaxy is actually heading our way
chuckscherl
not rated yet Nov 13, 2009
NGC 1365 is 56 MILLION light years
brant
not rated yet Nov 13, 2009
"The scientists offer three possible explanations for this so-far unique situation: the AGN has yet another layer of absorbing gas but one that does not vary (but where did it come from), there is a second black hole contributing its own X-rays (but no other galaxy of this type has two such black holes), or the shape of the absorber has a particular, complex geometry (which seems very artificial). "

Interesting. They posit every solution except the one that says that the source is variable.
"Another layer." When they say stuff like that something is not quite right.
Au-Pu
not rated yet Nov 14, 2009
I must apologise for my foxes paw (faux pas) in forgetting the "million".
Still what is a million or two between friends.
Whether it is 56 light years or 56 million light years we will never reach either, except of course in movies.
I will endeavour not to be so sloppy in future.
rgw
not rated yet Nov 14, 2009
or as Douglas Adams said, "Space is big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the drug store, but that's just peanuts to space."
vidyunmaya
Nov 14, 2009
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