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NGC 4696:
Black Holes Found To Be Green By NASA's Chandra


NGC 4696
Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/KIPAC/S.Allen et al; Radio: NRAO/VLA/G.Taylor; Infrared: NASA/ESA/McMaster Univ./W.Harris

By studying the inner regions of nine elliptical galaxies with Chandra, scientists can now estimate the rate at which gas is falling toward the galaxies' supermassive black holes. These images also allowed them to estimate the power required to produce radio emitting bubbles in the hot X-ray gas.

The composite image of NGC 4696 shows a vast cloud of hot gas (red), surrounding high-energy bubbles 10,000 light years across (blue) on either side of the bright white area around the supermassive black hole. Images of the other galaxies in the study show a similar structure. (The green dots in the image show infrared radiation from star clusters on the outer edges of the galaxy).

Surprisingly, the results indicate that most of the energy released by the infalling gas goes, not into an outpouring of light as is observed in many active galactic nuclei, but into jets of high-energy particles. Such jets can be launched from a magnetized gaseous disk around the central black hole, and blast away at near the speed of light to create huge bubbles.

An important implication of this work is that the conversion of energy by matter falling toward a black hole is much more efficient than nuclear or fossil fuels. For example, it is estimated that if a car was as fuel-efficient as these black holes, it could theoretically travel more than a billion miles on a gallon of gas!

Fast Facts for NGC 4696:
Credit  X-ray: NASA/CXC/KIPAC/S.Allen et al; Radio: NRAO/VLA/G.Taylor; Infrared: NASA/ESA/McMaster Univ./W.Harris
Scale  Image is 2.3 by 1.6 arcmin
Category  Black Holes, Normal Galaxies & Starburst Galaxies
Coordinates (J2000)  RA 12h 48m 48.90s | Dec -41 18' 44.40"
Constellation  Centaurus
Observation Dates  April 1, 2004
Observation Time  24 hours
Obs. ID  4954
Color Code  X-ray: Red, Radio: Blue, Infrared: Green
Instrument  ACIS
References S. Allen et al. 2006, Monthly Notices Roy. Astr. Soc. (See also stro-ph/0602549)
Distance Estimate  About 150 million light years
Release Date  April 24, 2006