Feeds

Scientists watch matter fall into black hole

Like flushing a cosmic toilet

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Build a business case: developing custom apps

An international team of astronomers has made direct observations of clumps of gas, orbiting a black hole at ten per cent of the speed of light. This is the first time scientists have been able to see individual X-ray- emitting lumps of matter go all the way round a black hole.

The data provide an insight into previously speculative areas of science. For the first time, star gazers have concrete measurements of the orbital period and orbital speed of matter circling a black hole. The researchers have used the information to work out that the black hole they are studying must be at least 300,000 times as massive as our own sun.

Artist's impression of matter falling into a black hole

Dr Lance Miller of the University of Oxford commented: "If the black hole in question were placed in our Solar System, it would be as wide as Mercury's orbit, with the three clumps of matter detected orbiting as far out as Jupiter. They orbit the black hole in a lightning-quick 27 hours, compared to the 12 years it takes Jupiter to orbit the Sun."

Miller was part of a team of astronomers that included researchers at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center and University of Maryland Baltimore County. The team analysed observations from the EPIC X-ray cameras on the European Space Agency's XMM-Newton satellite.

The team was able to make the observations by tracking flares on the disc of matter swirling round the black hole. The mechanism that produces the flares is still unknown, but Miller explains that tracking their movement was simple.

"We think we're viewing the accretion disk at a slightly tilted angle, and we see the light from each of these flares rise and fall in energy as they orbit the black hole. With a measured velocity and orbital period, we could determine the black hole mass using relatively simple Newtonian physics," he said. ®

Related stories

Scientists spot really, really big black hole
New 'scope snaps Orion in infrared
Work begins on Hubble's replacement

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
Boffins attempt to prove the UNIVERSE IS JUST A HOLOGRAM
Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?
Our LOHAN spaceplane ballocket Kickstarter climbs through £8000
Through 25 per cent but more is needed: Get your UNIQUE rewards!
China building SUPERSONIC SUBMARINE that travels in a BUBBLE
Shanghai to San Fran in two hours would be a trick, though
LOHAN tunes into ultra long range radio
And verily, Vultures shall speak status unto distant receivers
SpaceX prototype rocket EXPLODES over Texas. 'Tricky' biz, says Elon Musk
No injuries or near injuries. Flight stayed in designated area
Galileo, Galileo! Galileo, Galileo! Galileo fit to go. Magnifico
I'm just a poor boy, nobody loves me. But at least I can find my way with ESA GPS by 2017
EOS, Lockheed to track space junk from Oz
WA facility gets laser-eyes out of the fog
prev story

Whitepapers

Top 10 endpoint backup mistakes
Avoid the ten endpoint backup mistakes to ensure that your critical corporate data is protected and end user productivity is improved.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Backing up distributed data
Eliminating the redundant use of bandwidth and storage capacity and application consolidation in the modern data center.
The essential guide to IT transformation
ServiceNow discusses three IT transformations that can help CIOs automate IT services to transform IT and the enterprise
Next gen security for virtualised datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.