NASA Telescope Reveals New Information About Black Holes

Posted: Jun 14 2017, 11:25am CDT | by , Updated: Jun 14 2017, 11:30am CDT, in News | Latest Science News

 
NASA Telescope Reveals New Information about Black Holes
Artist illustration of thick and cool ring of dust around active black hole. Credits: NASA/SOFIA/Lynette Cook

Dust surrounding active black holes is much more dense than previously thought

Black holes are among the most mysterious objects in the universe. They are found in the centers of the giant galaxies and can grow as large as billions of suns. Black holes feed on surrounding gas and stars. When wandering stars come close to black holes, they draw them even closer using their extreme gravitational pull and rip them apart. This event results in releasing enormous amount of energy and light.

Black holes are like dark abyss stretching across the fabric of space. They are pitch- black because not even light can pass through them. Therefore, these invisible giants have never been observed directly. The only way researchers can infer their existence is through extreme gravitational pull that seems to have an effect on nearby visible materials like stars and planets.

Despite years of research, scientists still know very little about black holes. New findings, however, continue to shape and define their perception.

Most of the black holes in the known universe are inactive, meaning they do not consume gas on regular basis. However some supermassive black holes are actively eating materials from their surroundings regions called active galactic nuclei.

Models indicate that these active black holes have a donut-shaped dust structure, known as a torus, around them. Using SOFIA Telescope, researchers have observed the infrared emissions around 11 supermassive black holes covering 100 million light years and more and determined the size, density and distribution of dust in each torus.

Researchers have found that the tori are 30 percent smaller than predicted and that the peak infrared emission is longer than previously estimated. These findings suggest that dust around black holes is much more compact than previously thought.

“Using SOFIA, we were able to obtain the most spatially detailed observations possible at these wavelengths, allowing us to make new discoveries on the characterization of active galactic nuclei dust tori.” Lead study author Lindsay Fuller from University of Texas in a statement.

SOFIA is basically an aircraft modified to carry a 100-inch diameter telescope. Because it is based on an aircraft, SOFIA has been able to carry heavy and more powerful instruments than ever before.

SOFIA flies above 99 percent of the Earth’s water vapor, which enabled researchers to characterize the properties of the torus-shaped dust structures at far-infrared wavelengths. However, it is necessary to determine that whether or not all of the observed emission originated from the tori.

“Next, our goal will be to use SOFIA to observe a larger sample of active galactic nuclei, and at longer wavelengths,” said Enrique Lopez-Rodriguez, a member of SOFIA Science Center. “That will allow us to put tighter constraints on the physical structure of the dusty environment surrounding the active galactic nuclei.”

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.

 

 

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