Winds of Change: How Black Holes May Shape Galaxies

Mar 03, 2010
Credit: X-ray (NASA/CXC/MIT/C.Canizares, D.Evans et al), Optical (NASA/STScI), Radio (NSF/NRAO/VLA)

( -- This is a composite image of NGC 1068, one of the nearest and brightest galaxies containing a rapidly growing supermassive black hole.

X-ray data from the are shown in red, from the Hubble Space Telescope in green and radio data from the Very Large Array in blue. The spiral structure of NGC 1068 is shown by the X-ray and optical data, and a jet powered by the central supermassive black hole is shown by the radio data.

The X-ray images and spectra obtained using Chandra's High Energy Transmission Grating Spectrometer show that a strong wind is being driven away from the center of NGC 1068 at a rate of about a million miles per hour. This wind is likely generated as surrounding gas is accelerated and heated as it swirls toward the black hole. A portion of the gas is pulled into the black hole, but some of it is blown away. High energy X-rays produced by the gas near the black hole heat the ouflowing gas, causing it to glow at lower X-ray energies.

This Chandra study is much deeper than previous X-ray observations. It allowed scientists to make a high-definition map of the cone-shaped volume lit up by the black hole and its winds, and make precision measurements of how the wind speed varies along the cone. Using this data it is shown that each year several times the mass of the Sun is being deposited out to large distances, about 3,000 light years from the black hole. The wind likely carries enough energy to heat the surrounding gas and suppress extra .

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Animation of Changes in the X-ray Spectrum

These results help explain how a supermassive black hole can alter the evolution of its host galaxy. It has long been suspected that material blown away from a black hole can affect its environment, but a key question has been whether such "black hole blowback" typically delivers enough power to have a significant impact.

NGC 1068 is located about 50 million light years from Earth and contains a supermassive black hole about twice as massive as the one in the middle of the Milky Way Galaxy.

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1 / 5 (3) Mar 04, 2010
I see no evidence of a black hole here.

With kind regards,
Oliver K. Manuel
Former NASA PI for Apollo
5 / 5 (2) Mar 06, 2010
This curious relation between SMBH size and the size of the galaxy (or, in extreme cases), the size of the entire bound galaxy cluster is altered is very profound. How does an object only 2 light-days across affect features in resident galaxies and galaxy clusters for hundreds of thousands of light years? It boggles the (rational) mind.
not rated yet Mar 06, 2010
How does an object only 2 light-days across affect features in resident galaxies and galaxy clusters for hundreds of thousands of light years?
Obviously, we are missing something and we don't know what we are missing.
How do we measure the size of a SMBH? Who knows whether it's only the indirect electromagnetic (visual) properties of an SMBH which define its size? Maybe these observations are a hint that spacetime on large scales is more "connected" than our current models provide for?

Of course, I'm speculating only which is a very poor replacement for a decent model.
not rated yet Apr 27, 2010
According to the implied report triggering this article. The SMBH affects the entire Galaxy in a new way. The heated outpouring gas has considerable energy and mass. This would impart energy to all the stars and matter it contacted on it's way through the galaxy. The result may be an increase in rotational energy to all stars and as a consequence alter the velocity of rotation of the galaxy itself.