Quasars & Active Galaxies

Researchers Catch Supermassive Black Hole Burping — Twice

SDSS J1354+1327
SDSS J1354+1327

Using data from several telescopes including NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, astronomers have caught a supermassive black hole snacking on gas and then "burping" — not once but twice, as described in our latest press release.

This graphic shows the galaxy, called SDSS J1354+1327 (J1354 for short) in a composite image with data from Chandra (purple), and the Hubble Space Telescope (HST; red, green and blue). The inset box contains a close-up view of the central region around J1354's supermassive black hole. A companion galaxy to J1354 is shown to the north. Researchers also used data from the W.M. Keck Observatory atop Mauna Kea, Hawaii and the Apache Point Observatory (APO) in New Mexico for this finding.

Chandra detected a bright, point-like source of X-ray emission from J1354, a telltale sign of the presence of a supermassive black hole millions or billions of times more massive than our sun. The X-rays are produced by gas heated to millions of degrees by the enormous gravitational and magnetic forces near the black hole. Some of this gas will fall into the black hole, while a portion will be expelled in a powerful outflow of high-energy particles.

Giant Black Hole Pair Photobombs Andromeda Galaxy

Professor Emily Levesque & Trevor Dorn-Wallenstein
Professor Emily Levesque & Trevor Dorn-Wallenstein

Trevor is a third-year Astronomy graduate student at the University of Washington in Seattle, working with Professor Emily Levesque. He led the paper that is the subject of our latest press release on the discovery of a giant black hole pair that is photobombing the Andromeda Galaxy. He is interested in massive stars and young stellar populations, as well as playing the drums and baking cookies.

It’s funny how a simple case of mistaken identity can lead to the discovery of exotic objects hiding as unassuming dots in the sky.

My advisor, Professor Emily Levesque, and I, both astronomers at the University of Washington, were interested in finding star systems called red supergiant X-ray binaries. These systems consist of a compact object, like a neutron star or black hole, and a red supergiant — massive stars like Betelgeuse that are 10-20 times the mass of our sun but much less hot. Mass from the supergiant is lost to the compact object, where it should heat up and glow brightly in X-rays. While no such systems have been conclusively identified, red supergiant X-ray binaries could be used to better understand the evolution of the most extreme star systems.

Arp 299: Galactic Goulash

Arp 299

What would happen if you took two galaxies and mixed them together over millions of years? A new image including data from NASA's X-ray Observatory reveals the cosmic culinary outcome.

Arp 299 is a system located about 140 million light years from Earth. It contains two galaxies that are merging, creating a partially blended mix of stars from each galaxy in the process.

However, this stellar mix is not the only ingredient. New data from Chandra reveals 25 bright X-ray sources sprinkled throughout the Arp 299 concoction. Fourteen of these sources are such strong emitters of X-rays that astronomers categorize them as "ultra-luminous X-ray sources," or ULXs.

These ULXs are found embedded in regions where stars are currently forming at a rapid rate. Most likely, the ULXs are binary systems where a neutron star or black hole is pulling matter away from a companion star that is much more massive than the Sun. These double star systems are called high-mass X-ray binaries.

Starvation Diet for Black Hole Dims Brilliant Galaxy

Markarian 1018
Astronomers may have solved the mystery of the peculiar volatile behavior of a supermassive black hole at the center of a galaxy. Combined data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and other observatories suggest that the black hole is no longer being fed enough fuel to make its surroundings shine brightly.

Monster Flares in Otherwise Ordinary Extragalactic X-ray Binaries'

Jimmy Irwin
Jimmy Irwin

We are pleased to welcome Jimmy Irwin as our guest blogger today. Jimmy is the first author of a new Nature paper describing the detection of two mysterious, flaring X-ray sources in Chandra data. Irwin is an associate professor at the University of Alabama. After obtaining his PhD from the University of Virginia, he was a postdoc, a Chandra Fellow, and a research scientist at the University of Michigan. He studies the X-ray binary and hot gas content of galaxies, as well as the hot intracluster medium of groups and clusters of galaxies.

Projects don't always turn out the way one expects them to. Sometimes the result is uninteresting, but other times they far exceed expectations. Our project began as an undergraduate endeavor for two students looking to work on a project for college credit. A third student, who was a friend of one of the students, joined the project just for fun.

A Black Hole Story Told by a Cosmic Blob and Bubble

IC 2497
Two cosmic structures show evidence for a remarkable change in behavior of a supermassive black hole in a distant galaxy. Using data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and other telescopes, astronomers are piecing together clues from a cosmic “blob” and a gas bubble that could be a new way to probe the past activity of a giant black hole and its effect on its host galaxy.

Surprise Discovery of X-ray Bright Supermassive Black Hole Jet in the Early Universe

Aurora Simionescu
Aurora Simionescu

We are pleased to welcome a guest blogger, Aurora Simionescu, who led the study that is the subject of our latest press release, about a distant X-ray jet. Originally from Romania, Aurora completed her PhD at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Garching, Germany, before moving to Stanford University as an Einstein Postdoctoral Research Fellow. She is currently working as an International Top Young Fellow at the Institute of Space and Astronautical Sciences of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. Besides being a high-energy astrophysicist, she is also a part-time travel and nature photographer with a skiing addiction who loves ballroom dancing and the color pink.

Around March 2014, my colleague, Lukasz Stawarz, who was then sharing an office with me at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, showed me a very odd astronomical object he and his collaborators had found by searching though archived radio observations from the Very Large Array (VLA).

Glow from the Big Bang Allows Discovery of Distant Black Hole Jet

B3 0727+409
A jet from a very distant black hole being illuminated by the leftover glow from the Big Bang, known as the cosmic microwave background (CMB), has been found as described in our latest press release. Astronomers using NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory discovered this faraway jet serendipitously when looking at another source in Chandra's field of view.

Blast from Black Hole in a Galaxy Far, Far Away

Pictor A
The Star Wars franchise has featured the fictitious "Death Star," which can shoot powerful beams of radiation across space. The Universe, however, produces phenomena that often surpass what science fiction can conjure.

The Pictor A galaxy is one such impressive object. This galaxy, located nearly 500 million light years from Earth, contains a supermassive black hole at its center. A huge amount of gravitational energy is released as material swirls towards the event horizon, the point of no return for infalling material. This energy produces an enormous beam, or jet, of particles traveling at nearly the speed of light into intergalactic space.

The Hunt for the Smallest Supermassive Black Holes

Vivienne Baldassare
Vivienne Baldassare

We are very pleased to welcome Vivienne Baldassare as a guest blogger today. Vivienne is the first author of a paper that is the subject of our latest press release, about an exceptionally small supermassive black hole. She is a PhD candidate and National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow in the University of Michigan Department of Astronomy. Vivienne obtained her undergraduate degree in physics from Hunter College, where she was also a member of the Macaulay Honors College.

It is well established that most, if not all, massive galaxies host supermassive black holes at their centers − our own Milky Way houses a several million solar mass black hole in its core. Little is known, however, about the population of black holes in the centers of dwarf galaxies. I study the centers of small galaxies to see how many host supermassive black holes and if those black holes interact with their galaxies in the same way as bigger supermassive black holes.

Though dwarf galaxies are more common than large galaxies, it is more difficult to determine whether they host black holes. When galaxies are large and nearby, we can find central black holes by studying the motions of stars in the region dominated by the gravity of the black hole. Since smaller black holes influence smaller regions, this method would only work for dwarf galaxies in our cosmological back yard. Instead, we must search for active black holes in dwarf galaxies, i.e. black holes that are voraciously consuming material, releasing large amounts of light from the galaxy’s center.


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