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First Published: September 24: 2015
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Astrophysics

Astrophysics Arkive Year Alpha and Year Beta

Into the Black Hole the Echoing Light Goes to Unearth Its Mystery Behaviour’s Geometry Sure

 

 

|| Tuesday: January 21: 2020: University of Southampton News || ά. Scientists have, for the first time, mapped the behaviour of gas, approaching a black hole by studying vibrations of the light it fires out. As material spirals into a black hole, it emits X-rays, that echo and reverberate as they interact with nearby gas. The researchers used the European Space Agency’s observatory XMM-Newton to track the echoes of the X-rays, thrown out into space by a black hole at the core of an active galaxy, named, IRAS 13224-3809.

Although, most black holes are too small on the sky for humans to resolve their immediate surroundings, it is still possible to explore these mysterious objects by watching how matter behaves as it nears and falls into them. “Everyone is familiar with how the echo of their voice sounds different when speaking in a classroom compared to a cathedral, this is simply due to the geometry and materials of the rooms, which causes sound to behave and bounce around differently.” says Mr William Alston of the University of Cambridge, who, is, also, the Lead Author of the new Study.

“In a similar manner, we can watch how echoes of light propagate in order to map out the geometry of a region and the state of a clump of matter before it disappears into a black hole. It’s a bit like cosmic echolocation.” As well as using the dynamics of in-falling gas to determine its geometry, the international team were, also, able to determine the black hole’s mass and spin.

This in-spiralling material forms a disc as it falls into the black hole. Above this disc lies a region of very hot electrons, on the order of a billion degrees, called, the corona. The researchers expected to see the reverberation echoes they used to map the region’s geometry but, also, spotted something unexpected: the corona changed in size incredibly quickly, over a matter of days.

Dr Middleton of the University of Southampton’s School of Astrophysics said, “The light echoes we observed changed as the corona’s size changed. This meant we could get much better information on how the black hole was spinning and its mass than we would have done had the corona not changed in size.”

The Study used the longest observation of an accreting black hole ever taken with XMM-Newton, 16 full spacecraft orbits over 23 days, allowing the researchers to comprehensively model the echoes. Measuring the mass, spin and accretion rates of a large sample of black holes is key to understanding gravity throughout the cosmos and, how a galaxy’s central black hole is linked to how its host galaxy forms and evolves over time.

The findings have been published in the journal Nature Astronomy. Dr Middleton said, “"This work demonstrates quite clearly that the future of studying black holes very much relies on looking at how they vary; this will be the focus of a number of new missions launching in the next 10 years, which will usher in a new age of understanding these exotic objects."

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New Link Found Between the Mass of Supermassive Black Holes and Their Host Galaxies

 

|| Monday: December 16: 2019: University of Southampton News || ά. A team of astronomers has discovered a novel way to work out the weight of supermassive black holes at the centres of galaxies by measuring the distances between the galaxies, that contain them. Mysterious, massive dark objects lurk at the centre of nearly all galaxies and can be observed with high enough sensitivity.

Astronomers believe these to be black holes with masses, that can exceed the combined mass of a billion Suns. Such supermassive black holes, may, power quasars, the most luminous sources in the Universe and, may, halt the formation of stars by releasing copious amounts of energy, which heats up and fragments the gas in their host galaxies. One of their most astonishing properties is that, despite being tiny compared to their host galaxies, like a grape compared to the entire Earth, most observations suggest that the bigger the galaxy, the bigger the supermassive black hole it hosts. 

There must be an intimate link between the supermassive black hole growth and galaxy evolution but this has not yet been proven.  In this new Study, published in Nature Astronomy, the international research team, led by Dr Francesco Shankar of the University of Southampton, in close collaboration with Dr Viola Allevato at the Normale di Pisa and other partners in USA, Germany, Italy and Chile, set out to explain this link.

Accurately measuring the masses of supermassive black holes is usually achieved by measuring the velocity of the surrounding stars or gas. This is incredibly challenging and requires extremely sensitive telescopes and complex observations.  However, galaxies and their supermassive black holes are believed to reside in haloes, made of dark matter. Numerical simulations show that more massive dark matter haloes deviate more from a random spatial distribution, more strongly clustered.  Therefore, their clustering strength can be used to weigh the halos.

Astronomers expect more massive black holes to be hosted by more massive halos, so the clustering of the black holes can be used to estimate the masses of their hosts.  In turn, we can use this to constrain the masses of the black holes themselves.  By comparing simulations with recent data on the spatial distribution of galaxies, the researchers group found evidence that supermassive black holes are, on average, not as massive as previously thought.

Dr Shankar said, “These findings have significant implications for our understanding of the evolution and growth of supermassive black holes. What we have discovered suggests a greater ability to release energy and less strength in powering gravitational waves as supermassive black holes merge.”

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The Black Hole: The Event Horizon

 

 

|| Sunday: April 28: 2019: University of Southampton News || ά. The term ‘Event Horizon’ has recently been made into exciting cosmic news as humanity took the first step towards venturing into the existence of the black holes through taking a ‘wee’ look into one’s Event Horizon, confirming, for the first time, that black holes do exist, which is a gigantic feat in advancing our understanding of the cosmos, but, may be, it is a nano-feature in the cosmosian landscapes of wonders in this Universe. Therefore, ‘black holes have now moved from science fiction to science fact', say astrophysicists at the University of Southampton.

The sight of the first images ever taken of a black hole have been described as a ‘watershed moment in the history of science’ by leading astrophysicists. Although, neither were part of the team to present the photographs, taken of the black hole some 500 million trillion kilometres from Earth, Associate Professor Poshak Gandhi from Southampton’s Astronomy Group and Professor of Applied Mathematics, Nils Andersson, spoke of the significance and history made by the discovery.

“Seeing is believing and this is, by far, the most direct proof that black holes exist.” said Dr Gandhi, who researches extreme time-domain astrophysics with an emphasis on multi-wave-length observations of black holes. “We are celebrating 100 years, since, the bending of light was verified during a total Solar eclipse in 1919 by a team, led by Sir Arthur Eddington. A century later, we can now witness light being bent around a black hole.

It is enormously gratifying for those of us working in the field to see the advances, that continue to be made. The results by the Event Horizon Telescope:EHT team, also, represent years of truly global co-operation.” “Black holes have moved from science fiction to science fact.” enthused Professor Andersson, an expert in relativistic astrophysics, particularly, related to the dynamics of black holes and neutron stars.

“The astonishing image of the behemoth black hole at the centre of the M87 Galaxy, released by the Event Horizon Telescope team, the result of an intense international collaboration, making use of high precision radio interferometry, refines the argument. Adding to the LIGO detections of gravitational waves from merging black holes, the Event Horizon Telescope data has taken us to the point where it is difficult to find alternative explanations.

Does this mean that we have finally ‘seen’ a black hole? Not exactly. The Event Horizon image shows the presence of what is colloquially known as the light ring, technically, the unstable photon orbit, which is located outside a black hole. We are not seeing the event horizon itself. Still, this means that we are exploring a region much closer to a black hole than ever before.  For example, the gas observed whirling around the centre of M87 by the Hubble space telescope, some of the previous ‘best’ evidence for the presence of a black hole, was much further away.

Similarly, the stars, seen moving around our own galactic centre, also, suggesting the presence of a massive black hole, would be at a distance thousands of times larger. This is hugely important. The Event Horizon Telescope results lead to a very precise measurement of the black hole mass.

The black hole ‘photographed’ by an international team of scientists was viewed by a network of eight telescopes comprising the Event Horizon Telescope Array around the world. This particular black hole measures some 40 billion KM across, three million times the size of Earth and its revelation via these unique images have now enthused Dr Gandhi to become even more excited about further study of this still-mysterious phenomenon.

“New data should allow astronomers to test Einstein’s relativity theory in great detail, to understand how plasma accretes onto and is ejected from, black hole environments at speeds close to that of light.” Dr Gandhi said. “Such observations represent a new tool to study extreme physical environments, that can not be replicated in Earth's laboratories, which is hugely exciting.”

While Professor Andersson, also, remains optimistic of further breakthroughs to come. He suggests that these may not be so visual in the short term. “The Event Horizon Telescope observations rely on the fact that the black hole in M87 is an absolute giant, weighing six billion times as much as the Sun and it is relatively close to us.” Professor Andersson said.

“Other galaxies host black holes but these are unlikely to be resolved with the same detail. The one exception and the team’s natural next target, is our own galaxy’s black hole, in Sagittarius A. This is closer to home, obviously, but the black hole is more than a thousand times smaller than the one in M87 and the galactic centre is a messy region of space. These observations will be a challenge.

Instead, the next major piece of black-hole evidence, may, come from LIGO. As two black holes merge, they settle down to a heavier black hole in a distinct fashion. A detection of gravitational waves from this so-called ringdown would provide a direct fingerprint of black hole. So far, the LIGO signals have not been strong enough to distinguish this feature but, once it is observed, even, the most extreme sceptic would have to concede. There really are black holes out there.”:::ω.

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Astrophysicists Are on Their Way to Unlock the Mysteries Surrounding the Rare Cosmic Rays
 

 

 

 

 

 

|| January 24: 2019: University of Manchester News || ά. Scientists have designed and built a prototype particle detector, that aims to unlock some of the mysteries, surrounding rare cosmic rays, that enter Earth’s atmosphere from deep space. Cosmic rays are made up of highly energetic atomic nuclei and other particles, travelling through space at almost the speed of light. The most powerful of these rays contain, approximately, ten million times more energy than the particles being accelerated in the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Switzerland. But whilst physicists and astronomers have known about the existence of cosmic rays for over a hundred years, very little is known about where they come from or about the particles they’re made of.

The challenge for astronomers, trying to detect and analyse these rays, is that they're very rare, with an observatory seeing only one or two of the more energetic ones per hour. The Jodrell Bank Observatory was, originally, founded to help astronomers study cosmic rays with radio antennas. Now, as part of an international team of collaborators, Dr Justin Bray and Professor Ralph Spencer, who are based at Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics, have designed and built a new particle detector, that will work with the next generation of radio telescopes, such as, the Square Kilometre Array:SKA telescope. The prototype is first being deployed and tested at the Murchison Widefield Array:MWA telescope in Western Australia, which will, also, be the site of the low frequency antennas of the SKA. Dr Bray's team is the SKA High Energy Cosmic Particles group, headed by himself and Dr Clancy James from 2016. This group includes international researchers from Curtin University and CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science, both in Australia, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany and ASTRON, the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy.

The combination of the new particle detector and the dense configuration of radio antennas at the SKA telescope mean scientists will be able to take extensive measurements of the radio emissions from interacting cosmic rays. This, in turn, will make it easier to understand the properties of the cosmic rays themselves.

Dr Bray says, “The key attribute of cosmic rays that we'd like to measure is what types of particles they are. We know that they're atomic nuclei, stripped of all their electrons, with a mixture of elements, ranging from hydrogen up to iron. But the exact mix of what they’re made of is difficult to discern. If, we can find that out, it will provide key information about how they're produced and how they get to us.”

How they get to Earth and how far they travel is something, that has baffled scientists since cosmic rays were discovered in 1912. It is, generally, thought that the most energetic ones come from outside the galaxy and less energetic ones from inside the galaxy, possibly, from supernova remnants but this is yet to be confirmed.

The detector works by analysing the particles, that reach ground level after a cosmic ray smashes into our atmosphere, generating ‘exotic particles’ you wouldn’t, usually, find on Earth.

Dr Bray said, “When a cosmic ray hits Earth’s upper atmosphere, it smashes into a nitrogen or oxygen nucleus, generating a cascade of exotic particles, including, pions and tau leptons. By the time they reach ground level, the surviving particles are, mostly, muons, electrons, positrons, gamma rays and neutrinos.

The particle detector we're building will detect the muons, electrons and positrons in the cascade, that reach ground level. So, when it goes off, it tells us that there was a cosmic ray, interacting in the upper atmosphere, above the detector, a few microseconds ago.”:::ω.

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