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

Securing Web Applications Made Simple and Scalable

More from The Register

next story
World Solar Challenge contender claims new speed record
One charge sees Sunswift travel 500kms at over 100 km/h
SMELL YOU LATER, LOSERS – Dumbo tells rats, dogs... humans
Junk in the trunk? That's what people have
The Sun took a day off last week and made NO sunspots
Someone needs to get that lazy star cooking again before things get cold around here
Boffins discuss AI space program at hush-hush IARPA confab
IBM, MIT, plenty of others invited to fill Uncle Sam's spy toolchest, but where's Google?
Bad back? Show some spine and stop popping paracetamol
Study finds common pain-killer doesn't reduce pain or shorten recovery
Forty-five years ago: FOOTPRINTS FOUND ON MOON
NASA won't be back any time soon, sadly
Jurassic squawk: Dinos were Earth's early FEATHERED friends
Boffins research: Ancient dinos may all have had 'potential' fluff
prev story

Whitepapers

Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
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.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
Seven Steps to Software Security
Seven practical steps you can begin to take today to secure your applications and prevent the damages a successful cyber-attack can cause.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.