Feeds

NASA spies bursting supermassive blackholes

Holy belching quasars, Batman

High performance access to file storage

NASA astronomers think they have identified a pair of supermassive black holes, or quasars, that look like they are teetering on the brink of huge explosions.

Using the infrared camera on the Spitzer space telescope, the astronomers have been able to peer through obscuring dust and take a peek at the quasars at work.

Astronomers have suspected for some time that when galaxies collide, the supermassive black holes at their cores consume huge quantities of material; dust, gas and stars. The material is produced by violent periods of star formation, triggered by the galactic collisions.

It is normally very difficult to see the quasars at work on their intergalactic all-you-can-eat sessions because, as you might expect, two galaxies smashing into one another throws out a lot of dust and gas, blocking the view.

However, scientists now think that at some stage, the quasars get full. Once this happens, it will emit a huge burst of energy (NASA is describing this as a cosmic burp...) that could blow away a lot of the obscuring material.

Dr Maria del Carmen Polletta of the University of California at San Diego explains that black holes all emit radiation as they accrete matter. At some point, the amount of energy they emit is sufficient to destroy the surrounding dust.

Polletta used the Spitzer telescope to measure the amount of energy being absorbed by the dust surrounding suspected supermassive black holes. This gave her an indication of how luminous the quasars are, and from that, the research team can calculate how much material is being consumed.

She suggests that two quasars she has identified in a study (published in the May 2006 issue of Astrophysical Journal) are on the verge of just such an expulsion. One of the quasars is three billion times more luminous than our sun, suggesting it is gobbling up matter at a rate of around 68 solar masses per year; more than one of our suns per week.

"Black holes that are this heavily obscured and with this luminosity are very difficult to find and have not been extensively studied," says Polletta. "The belch of a black hole has never been verified with observations, so the explosion may not happen.

"The role that supermassive black holes play in the development of a galaxy is still unclear, there are still a lot of missing pieces. What we are seeing here is a very specific moment in the life of a black hole.

"According to astronomical models, black holes at this luminosity should destroy their surrounding material pretty soon." ®

High performance access to file storage

More from The Register

next story
Elon Musk's LEAKY THRUSTER gas stalls Space Station supply run
Helium seeps from Falcon 9 first stage, delays new legs for NASA robonaut
Red-faced LOHAN team 'fesses up in blown SPEARS fuse fiasco
Standing in the corner, big pointy 'D' hats
KILLER SPONGES menacing California coastline
Surfers are safe, crustaceans less so
LOHAN's Punch and Judy show relaunches Thursday
Weather looking good for second pop at test flights
Discovery time for 200m WONDER MATERIALS shaved from 4 MILLENNIA... to 4 years
Alloy, Alloy: Boffins in speed-classification breakthrough
Curiosity finds not-very-Australian-shaped rock on Mars
File under 'messianic pastries' and move on, people
Top Secret US payload launched into space successfully
Clandestine NRO spacecraft sets off on its unknown mission
Get your MOON GEAR: Auction to feature Space Race memorabilia
Keepsakes from early NASA, Soviet programs up for bids
New FEMTO-MOON sighted BIRTHING from Saturn's RING
Icy 'Peggy' looks to be leaving the outer rings
prev story

Whitepapers

Securing web applications made simple and scalable
In this whitepaper learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
HP ArcSight ESM solution helps Finansbank
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Mobile application security study
Download this report to see the alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack, as well as the most common and easily addressable vulnerability errors.