Feeds

Scientists watch matter fall into black hole

Like flushing a cosmic toilet

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Security for virtualized datacentres

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

Security for virtualized datacentres

More from The Register

next story
Boffins say they've got Lithium batteries the wrong way around
Surprises at the nano-scale mean our ideas about how they charge could be all wrong
Thought that last dinosaur was BIG? This one's bloody ENORMOUS
Weighed several adult elephants, contend boffins
Europe prepares to INVADE comet: Rosetta landing site chosen
No word yet on whether backup site is labelled 'K'
City hidden beneath England's Stonehenge had HUMAN ABATTOIR. And a pub
Boozed-up ancients drank beer before tearing corpses apart
'Duck face' selfie in SPAAAACE: Rosetta's snap with bird comet
Probe prepares to make first landing on fast-moving rock
Archaeologists and robots on hunt for more Antikythera pieces
How much of the world's oldest computer can they find?
LOHAN invites ENTIRE REG READERSHIP to New Mexico shindig
Well, those of you who back our Kickstarter tin-rattling...
prev story

Whitepapers

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.
Saudi Petroleum chooses Tegile storage solution
A storage solution that addresses company growth and performance for business-critical applications of caseware archive and search along with other key operational systems.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.
Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.