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Chandra X-ray Images of the North & South Chandra Deep Fields
(Credits: CDFN: NASA/CXC/PSU/
D.M.Alexander, F.E.Bauer, W.N.Brandt et al.; CDFS: NASA/CXC/R.Giacconi et al. and D.M.Alexander, F.E.Bauer, W.N.Brandt et al.)

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Chandra Deep Field-North:
Iron Spectra from Supermassive Black Holes


Chandra Deep Field-North
Credit: X-ray spectra/NASA/CXC/MPI/M.Brusa et al.; Illustration: CXC/M.Weiss

Using Chandra spectra obtained from more than 300 supermassive black holes in the centers of galaxies, a team of astronomers has been able to determine the amount of iron near the black holes (light blue in illustration on the right). The black holes were all located in the North and South Chandra Deep Fields, where the faintest and most-distant X-ray objects can be identified.

The left side of the above graphic shows portions of X-ray spectra from a subset of 50 black holes about 9 billion light years away (upper panel), and another group of 22 black holes that are about 11 billion light years away (lower panel). The peaks in the spectra are produced by X-ray emission from iron atoms, and indicate that approximately the same amount of iron was present around black holes 9 billion years and 11 billion years in the past.

Similar results corresponding to times ranging from 5 billion years to 9 billion years in the past show that the amount of iron around black holes has not changed significantly over the past 11 billion years. This implies that most of the iron in the galaxies that contain these supermassive black holes was created before the Universe was about 2 billion years old, when galaxies were very young.

The distinctive X-ray spectral peaks are produced by the fluorescence of iron atoms in a doughnut-shaped torus orbiting a supermassive black hole. In this process, high-energy X-rays from hot gas very near the black hole excite the iron atoms to a higher energy state, and they almost immediately return to their lower energy state with the emission of a lower-energy, fluorescent X-ray.

Fast Facts for Chandra Deep Field-North:
Credit  X-ray spectra/NASA/CXC/MPI/M.Brusa et al.; Illustration: CXC/M.Weiss
Category  Cosmology/Deep Fields/X-ray Background, Black Holes
Coordinates (J2000)  RA 12h 36m 45.70s | Dec +62° 13' 58.00"
Constellation  Ursa Major
Observation Dates  20 pointings between Nov 13, 1999 & Feb 22, 2002
Observation Time  556 hours (23 days)
Obs. IDs  580, 967, 966, 957, 2386, 1671, 2344, 2232, 2233, 2423, 2234, 2421, 3293, 3388, 3408, 3389, 3409, 3294, 3390, 3391
Instrument  ACIS
References M. Brusa, R. Gilli, and A. Comastri, 2005. The Astrophysical Journal Letters, Volume 621, p. L5-L8; see also astro-ph/0501542
Release Date  May 23, 2005
Fast Facts for Chandra Deep Field South :
Credit  X-ray spectra/NASA/CXC/MPI/M.Brusa et al.; Illustration: CXC/M.Weiss
Category  Cosmology/Deep Fields/X-ray Background, Black Holes
Coordinates (J2000)  RA 03h 32m 28s | Dec -27 48' 30.00
Constellation  Fornax
Observation Dates  11 pointings between Oct 15, 1999 & Dec 23, 2000
Observation Time  278 hours (11.5 days)
Obs. IDs  1431_0, 1431_1, 441, 582, 2406, 2405, 2312, 1672, 2409, 2313, 2239
Instrument  ACIS
References M. Brusa, R. Gilli, and A. Comastri, 2005. The Astrophysical Journal Letters, Volume 621, p. L5-L8; see also astro-ph/0501542
Release Date  May 23, 2005