The arrhythmic beating of a black hole heart

April 19, 2017
Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/MPE/J.Sanders et al.; Optical: NASA/STScI; Radio: NSF/NRAO/VLA

At the center of the Centaurus galaxy cluster, there is a large elliptical galaxy called NGC 4696. Deeper still, there is a supermassive black hole buried within the core of this galaxy.

New data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and other telescopes has revealed details about this giant black hole, located some 145 million light years from Earth. Although the black hole itself is undetected, astronomers are learning about the impact it has on the galaxy it inhabits and the larger around it.

In some ways, this black hole resembles a beating heart that pumps blood outward into the body via the arteries. Likewise, a black hole can inject material and energy into its host galaxy and beyond.

By examining the details of the X-ray data from Chandra, scientists have found evidence for repeated bursts of energetic particles in jets generated by the at the center of NGC 4696. These bursts create vast cavities in the hot gas that fills the space between the in the cluster. The bursts also create shock waves, akin to sonic booms produced by high-speed airplanes, which travel tens of thousands of light years across the cluster.

This composite image contains X-ray data from Chandra (red) that reveals the hot gas in the cluster, and radio data from the NSF's Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (blue) that shows high-energy particles produced by the black hole-powered jets. Visible light data from the Hubble Space Telescope (green) show galaxies in the cluster as well as galaxies and stars outside the cluster.

Astronomers employed special processing to the X-ray data (shown above) to emphasize nine cavities visible in the hot gas. These cavities are labeled A through I in an additional image, and the location of the black hole is labeled with a cross. The cavities that formed most recently are located nearest to the black hole, in particular the ones labeled A and B.

The researchers estimate that these black hole bursts, or "beats", have occurred every five to ten million years. Besides the vastly differing time scales, these beats also differ from typical human heartbeats in not occurring at particularly regular intervals.

A different type of processing of the X-ray data (shown above) reveals a sequence of curved and approximately equally spaced features in the hot gas. These may be caused by sound waves generated by the black hole's repeated bursts. In a galaxy cluster, the hot gas that fills the cluster enables sound waves—albeit at frequencies far too low for the human hear to detect—to propagate. (Note that both images showing the labeled cavities and this image are rotated slightly clockwise to the main composite.)

Astronomers employed special processing to the Chandra X-ray data of NGC 4696 to emphasize nine cavities visible in the hot gas. These cavities are labeled A through I in an additional image, and the location of the black hole is labeled with a cross. The cavities that formed most recently are located nearest to the black hole, in particular the ones labeled A and B. Credit: NASA/CXC/MPE/J.Sanders et al.

The features in the Centaurus Cluster are similar to the ripples seen in the Perseus cluster of galaxies. The pitch of the sound in Centaurus is extremely deep, corresponding to a discordant sound about 56 octaves below the notes near middle C. This corresponds to a slightly higher (by about one octave) pitch than the sound in Perseus. Alternative explanations for these curved features include the effects of turbulence or magnetic fields.

The black hole bursts also appear to have lifted up gas that has been enriched in elements generated in supernova explosions. The authors of the study of the Centaurus cluster created a map showing the density of elements heavier than hydrogen and helium. The brighter colors in the map show regions with the highest density of heavy elements and the darker colors show regions with a lower density of heavy elements. Therefore, regions with the highest density of heavy elements are located to the right of the black hole. A lower density of near the black hole is consistent with the idea that enriched gas has been lifted out of the cluster's center by bursting activity associated with the black hole. The energy produced by the black hole is also able to prevent the huge reservoir of hot gas from cooling. This has prevented large numbers of stars from forming in the gas.

A different type of processing of the Chandra X-ray data of NGC 4696 reveals a sequence of curved and approximately equally spaced features in the hot gas. These may be caused by sound waves generated by the black hole's repeated bursts. In a galaxy cluster, the hot gas that fills the cluster enables sound waves — albeit at frequencies far too low for the human hear to detect — to propagate. Credit: NASA/CXC/MPE/J.Sanders et al.

A paper describing these results was published in the March 21st 2016 issue of the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society and is available online. The first author is Jeremy Sanders from the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Garching, Germany.

Explore further: RX J1532.9+3021: Extreme power of black hole revealed

More information: J. S. Sanders et al. A very deepview of metals, sloshing and feedback in the Centaurus cluster of galaxies, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society (2016). DOI: 10.1093/mnras/stv2972 , https://arxiv.org/abs/1601.01489

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12 comments

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physicsBuff
Apr 19, 2017
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
thingumbobesquire
1 / 5 (1) Apr 19, 2017
Nonlinear discontinuities are the characteristics of substance http://thingumbob...are.html
Tuxford
1 / 5 (3) Apr 20, 2017
So where does the ejected gas from the core come from?? This is the crucial inconvenient question that is not even addressed. Just more support for LaViolette's Continuous Creation model, which predicts periodic core activity ejecting new gas therefrom.
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (4) Apr 20, 2017
So where does the ejected gas from the core come from?? This is the crucial inconvenient question that is not even addressed. Just more support for LaViolette's Continuous Creation model, which predicts periodic core activity ejecting new gas therefrom.

Not from the core. From the Event Horizon.
HannesAlfven
1.6 / 5 (7) Apr 20, 2017
Re: "lets make a pulsar"

Some theorists -- like Don Scott -- would argue that we already have. Pulsars are proposed by some theorists to be very similar to relaxation oscillators. It's a sophomore-level electronics project, and it explains better than rotation how it can be that these frequencies get up to the speed of a dentist's drill. Scott explains his ideas in his book The Electric Sky.

Other theorists have proposed that AGN's can be likened to a plasma focus. Eric Lerner goes into great detail on the similarities in his book The Big Bang Never Happened.

Anybody who is seriously interested in seeking to do labwork in this area should probably start with Halton Arp's Quasars, Redshifts and Controversies -- because there are some extremely important details with regards to quantization of redshifts which you are not being informed of in these press releases -- info which has been known for decades now, actually.
barakn
5 / 5 (8) Apr 20, 2017
Some theorists -- like Don Scott -- would argue that we already have. Pulsars are proposed by some theorists to be very similar to relaxation oscillators. It's a sophomore-level electronics project,
That explains the sophomoric quality of EU hypotheses.
SlartiBartfast
5 / 5 (5) Apr 20, 2017
Cue the EU zealo...oops, too slow.
Dingbone
Apr 20, 2017
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Hat1208
5 / 5 (7) Apr 20, 2017
@HannesAlfven

Talk about parroting back whatever the company line is. These people you are referencing and the theories they promulgate have absolutely nothing as evidence. This is just their opinion of basic physics.
Da Schneib
5 / 5 (5) Apr 21, 2017
So where does the ejected gas from the core come from?? This is the crucial inconvenient question that is not even addressed. Just more support for LaViolette's Continuous Creation model, which predicts periodic core activity ejecting new gas therefrom.

Not from the core. From the Event Horizon.
No, actually not even that close- from the accretion disk.
Dingbone
Apr 21, 2017
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Da Schneib
5 / 5 (3) Apr 22, 2017
Actually, the rotation creates an ergosphere, but this does not make the singularity "naked." The inner edge of the ergosphere is still the event horizon. You should study the Kerr, Kerr-Newman, and Reisser-Nordstrom solutions in addition to the Schwarzchild solution to understand this.

Most gravity physicists agree that the concepts of "singularity" and "naked singularity" are unphysical and are artifacts of our lack of a quantum gravity theory.

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