Feeds

Super-fast super-massive black hole spins at nearly light-speed

NuStar boffins peek through the clouds at NGC 1365

Intelligent flash storage arrays

NuStar – the X-ray telescope launched by NASA last year – is turning in its first science with measurements revealing that the outer edges of the NGC 1365 black hole are spinning at 84 percent of light-speed or more.

The supermassive black hole in the NGC 1365 galaxy has a mass more than two million times that of the sun, but it’s the measurement of its accretion disk’s spin rate that’s impressive here.

There was already a suspicion, gleaned through observations made by the European XMM-Newton space telescope, that the black hole was something special. However, as the NuStar announcement states, estimates of the object’s spin rate may have been distorted by the huge amount of dust in the galaxy.

As matter in the accretion disk of a black hole falls in, it gives off X-rays; and the more massive the black hole, the smaller the accretion disk. This, in turn, means the X-rays are emitted from a spot closer to the gravity well, and therefore suffer more distortion.

Looking at NGC 1365, the astronomers focussed on X-rays emitted by iron in the accretion disk, combining observations from NuStar with others from Europe’s XMM-Newton space telescope.

Differing views of NGC 1365

This ESA image of NGC 1365 shows how much deeper NuStar is able to "zoom in" on the black hole

“With help from XMM-Newton, NuSTAR was able to see a broader range of X-ray energies and penetrate deeper into the region around the black hole. The new data demonstrate that X-rays are not being warped by the clouds, but by the tremendous gravity of the black hole,” the statement says.

With these more accurate measurements of the emitted X-rays, the astronomers were able to measure the Doppler effect caused by the black-hole’s rotation, revealing its relativistic speed. If The Register understands the detail in the astronomers’ paper in Nature (abstract here) correctly, the upper limit for the spin rate could be as much as 97 percent of light-speed.

As Phil Plait discusses here, there are a couple of possible explanations for the unbelievable speed: the black hole may simply have swallowed lots of matter that arrived at the right angle to add to its angular momentum; or a galactic collision could have turned two black holes into one with a huge boost to the spin on its accretion disk.

NASA has a set of visuals and videos here. ®

Top 5 reasons to deploy VMware with Tegile

More from The Register

next story
Bond villains lament as Wicked Lasers withdraw death ray
Want to arm that shark? Better get in there quick
Antarctic ice THICKER than first feared – penguin-bot boffins
Robo-sub scans freezing waters, rocks warming models
Your PHONE is slowly KILLING YOU
Doctors find new Digitillnesses - 'text neck' and 'telepressure'
SEX BEAST SEALS may be egging each other on to ATTACK PENGUINS
Boffin: 'I think the behaviour is increasing in frequency'
Reuse the Force, Luke: SpaceX's Elon Musk reveals X-WING designs
And a floating carrier for recyclable rockets
The next big thing in medical science: POO TRANSPLANTS
Your brother's gonna die, kid, unless we can give him your, well ...
NASA launches new climate model at SC14
75 days of supercomputing later ...
Renewable energy 'simply WON'T WORK': Top Google engineers
Windmills, solar, tidal - all a 'false hope', say Stanford PhDs
Britain's HUMAN DNA-strewing Moon mission rakes in £200k
3 days, and Kickstarter moves lander 37% nearer takeoff
prev story

Whitepapers

Why cloud backup?
Combining the latest advancements in disk-based backup with secure, integrated, cloud technologies offer organizations fast and assured recovery of their critical enterprise data.
Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Designing and building an open ITOA architecture
Learn about a new IT data taxonomy defined by the four data sources of IT visibility: wire, machine, agent, and synthetic data sets.
How to determine if cloud backup is right for your servers
Two key factors, technical feasibility and TCO economics, that backup and IT operations managers should consider when assessing cloud backup.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.