ASKAP test finds "monster" black hole

ASKAP test finds “monster” black hole
Knowing the speed of the gas they were able to directly measure the mass of the black hole that was causing the gas to swirl. Credit: NASA/ESA/Hubble Heritage Team/AURA/B. Whitmore et al.

Imagine trying on new pair of spectacles and when glancing around to test them you spot a monster—that's exactly what happened when the ASKAP antennas were turned towards a group of three merging galaxies 1.8 billion light years away.

The monster concerned is a with a mass 3 billion times that of the Sun.

All galaxies are believed to house a huge black hole at their centre, but this one is gigantic by cosmic standards.

It is 750 times bigger than the black hole at the centre of the Milky Way—which is a modest 4 million solar masses.

Black holes grow by drawing in material including other that venture too close, and in this case the black holes from the three galaxies have merged.

Dr Lisa Harvey-Smith from CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science and her team knew of a strong source of radiowaves, known as an astrophysical maser, in the group and pointed the of antennas toward it.

The results were checked by the Australia Telescope Compact Array telescope at Narrabri which found the gas forming the maser was moving at around 600 kilometres per second, or around 500 times the speed of a rifle cartridge.

Knowing the speed of the gas they were able to directly measure the mass of the black hole that was causing the gas to swirl.

ASKAP test finds “monster” black hole
ASKAP antennas. Credit: CSIRO

ASKAP (the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder) is the precursor to the Square Kilometer Array and is being built in the Murchison.

When finished ASKAP will have 36 identical antennas, each 12m in diameter that will work together as a single instrument.

"The full 36 antennas will be online by 2018," Dr Harvey-Smith says.

"We currently have nine antennas doing commissioning and testing, and our early science program will begin when we have 12 antennas ready."

Dr George Heald who leads the CSIRO Astrophysics group in Perth says ASKAP's advantage lies in sporting CSIRO's own receiver technology called Phased Array Feed (PAF), which is like a digital camera for use in radio astronomy.

"It allows us to map a huge area of the sky a lot faster than by using a traditional radio telescope," he says.

Perth team member Aidan Hotan says that most of the science planned for ASKAP has to do with understanding the structure and composition of the universe out to greater distances and over wider areas than ever before.


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Provided by Science Network WA

This article first appeared on ScienceNetwork Western Australia a science news website based at Scitech.

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May 04, 2016
Does the 3-galaxy merger have a catalog or survey number? Coordinates?

Or is there a third galaxy among NGC 4038 and NGC 4039? (see: Antennae Galaxies)

May 05, 2016
Does the 3-galaxy merger have a catalog or survey number? Coordinates?

http://arxiv.org/...7537.pdf , http://simbad.u-s...100-4156
A VLBI survey will be done to pinpoint the source.

May 05, 2016
This is terrific...36 antennae locked in to better see the Big Picture. Can't hardly wait for 2018 for this AND the launch of JWT.
[rubbing hands together with glee]

A sobering thought: somewhere in that doomed maelstrom of whirling gas and dust may be a solar system much like ours, with a planet full of possibly intelligent life who never had a chance to escape from their tortuous extinction. What we see in these and future pictures have already happened long ago.
Thanks to the Hubble team for providing the top photo.

May 05, 2016
Ah, thanks TechnoCreed, different coordinates for IRAS 20100-4156, good to know. Also good to know ASKAP is progressing nicely with the early science. Definitely looking forward to seeing more of what's there with the VLBI.

May 05, 2016
It would depend largely on the degree of advancement. If they were in the same level of technology as humans are today, they wouldn't stand a chance of escaping their fate.
It also would depend on their distance from the maelstrom and its boundary. Even at a great distance from it, they still might feel some very subtle effects..so subtle that they would tend to overlook and ignore any warning signs. They would go about their business and depend on their scientists with whichever technology was available, to look out for their welfare.

Intelligence doesn't necessarily proceed with caution, and such a civilized society wouldn't necessarily be searching for BH in their neighborhood, but only the ones far off, the same as human scientists tend to do. They would be wary of nearby comets & asteroids also.

What they suffer or don't suffer has no bearing on what WILL happen to their entire solar system. They most likely wouldn't feel anything except possible strange sensations.

May 05, 2016
They may not even realize that their solar system is being slowly drawn toward an accretion disk, similar to a science fiction "tractor beam". It might be very gentle, at first, and very few would notice the effect. BHs tend to grow larger as they consume, thereby occupying more space, with a stronger G force.

If they were technologically far advanced, they might have built an artificial planet with something like an impulse engine as a propulsion system, as a means to remove as much life from their planet for the preservation of their kind.

Then again, the planets may only contain microbes at the very most, in which case the BHs are of no big consequence to them...UNLESS the bacteria have developed some degree of intelligence, in spite of their small size.

Just a scenario to muse upon.

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