YOU ARE HERE: Home > News & Press > Shocking case of indigestion in supermassive black hole

I want information on:

Information for:

NEWS & PRESS

Shocking case of indigestion in supermassive black hole

Last Updated on Tuesday, 04 July 2017 13:21
Published on Tuesday, 04 July 2017 09:58

A multi-wavelength study of a pair of colliding galaxies has revealed the cause of a supermassive black hole's case of 'indigestion'. Results will be presented by Dr Hayden Rampadarath at the National Astronomy Meeting at the University of Hull.

 

Once every couple of hundred million years, the small galaxy NGC 5195 falls into the outer arms of its larger companion, NGC 5194, also known as the Whirlpool galaxy. Both galaxies are locked in a gravitational dance that will result – billions of years in the future – in the formation of a single galaxy.

thumb M51b rgb press 2Left: Image of the Whirlpool galaxy and NGC 5195. Credit: Jon Christensen. Right: False colour image of NGC 5195 created by combining the VLA 20 cm radio image (red), the Chandra X-ray image (green), and the Hubble Space telescope H-alpha image (blue). The image shows the X-ray and H-alpha arcs, as well as the radio outflows from the supermassive black hole at the centre of NGC 5195. Credits: NRAO / AUI / NSF / NASA / CXC / NASA / ESA / STScI / U. Manchester / Rampadarath et al. Right inset: e-MERLIN maps of the nuclear region of NGC 5195 at 1.4 GHz (left) and 5 GHz (right). The images display a partially resolved source with possible parsec-scale outflows. Credit: e-MERLIN / U. Manchester / Rampadarath et al. Click for a larger image

 

As NGC 5195 plunges into the Whirlpool, matter streams onto the supermassive black hole at NGC 5195's centre and forms an accretion disc. The disc grows to a point where the supermassive black hole can no longer accrete or 'digest' efficiently and matter is blasted out into the surrounding interstellar medium. Last year, NASA's Chandra X-Ray observatory spotted arcs of X-ray emission that appeared to result from this 'force-feeding'.

 

Now, new high-resolution images of the core of NGC 5195, taken with the e-MERLIN radio array, and archive images of the surrounding area from the Very Large Array (VLA), Chandra and the Hubble Space Telescope, reveal in detail how these blasts occur and spread. The study was led by astronomers at the University of Manchester's Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics.

 

The supermassive black hole at the centre of NGC 5195 has a mass equivalent to 19 million Suns. When the accretion process breaks down, immense forces and pressures create a shock wave that pushes matter out into the interstellar medium. Electrons, accelerated close to the speed of light, interact with the magnetic field of the interstellar medium and emit energy at radio wavelengths. The shock wave then inflates and heats up the interstellar medium, which emits in the X-ray, and strips the electrons from surrounding neutral hydrogen atoms to make ionised hydrogen gas. This inflated bubble creates the arcs detected by Chandra and Hubble.

 

Rampadarath explains: "Comparing the VLA images at radio wavelengths to Chandra's X-ray observations and the hydrogen-emission detected by Hubble, shows that features are not only connected, but that the radio outflows are in fact the progenitors of the structures seen by Chandra and Hubble. This is an event of galactic proportions that we can see right across the electromagnetic spectrum."

 

He adds: "The age of the arcs in NGC 5195 is 1-2 million years. To put that into context, the first traces of matter were being forced out of the black hole in this system at about the time that our ancestors were learning to make fire. That we are able to observe this event now through such a range of astronomical facilities is quite remarkable."

 


Media contacts

 

NAM press office (Monday 3 – Thursday 6 July)

Tel: +44 (0)1482 467507 / (0)1482 467508

 

Robert Massey

Royal Astronomical Society

Mob: +44 (0)7802 877699

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

Anita Heward

Royal Astronomical Society

Mob: +44 (0)7756 034243

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

Morgan Hollis

Royal Astronomical Society

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 


Science contacts

 

Hayden Rampadarath

Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics

University of Manchester

Mob: +44 (0)7532 321326

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 


Images and captions

 

Left: Image of the Whirlpool galaxy and NGC 5195. Credit: Jon Christensen. Right: False colour image of NGC 5195 created by combining the VLA 20 cm radio image (red), the Chandra X-ray image (green), and the Hubble Space telescope H-alpha image (blue). The image shows the X-ray and H-alpha arcs, as well as the radio outflows from the supermassive black hole at the centre of NGC 5195. Credits: NRAO / AUI / NSF / NASA / CXC / NASA / ESA / STScI / U. Manchester / Rampadarath et al. Right inset: e-MERLIN maps of the nuclear region of NGC 5195 at 1.4 GHz (left) and 5 GHz (right). The images display a partially resolved source with possible parsec-scale outflows. Credit: e-MERLIN / U. Manchester / Rampadarath et al.

 

Unannotated version of false colour image of NGC 5195 created by combining the VLA 20 cm radio image (red), the Chandra X-ray image (green), and the Hubble Space telescope H-alpha image (blue). The image shows the X-ray and H-alpha arcs, as well as the radio outflows from the supermassive black hole at the centre of NGC 5195. Credits: NRAO / AUI / NSF / NASA / CXC / NASA / ESA / STScI / U. Manchester / Rampadarath et al.

 

Unannotated version of e-MERLIN maps of the nuclear region of NGC 5195 at 1.4 GHz (left) and 5 GHz (right). The images display a partially resolved source with possible parsec-scale outflows. Credit: e-MERLIN / U. Manchester / Rampadarath et al.

 


Further information

 

This research has been submitted to the journal MNRAS and is currently under review.

 


Notes for editors

 

Running from 2 to 6 July, the RAS National Astronomy Meeting 2017 (NAM 2017, http://nam2017.org) takes place this year at the University of Hull. NAM 2017 will bring together around 500 space scientists and astronomers to discuss the latest research in their respective fields. The conference is principally sponsored by the Royal Astronomical Society and the Science and Technology Facilities Council.

T: http://twitter.com/rasnam2017

 

The Royal Astronomical Society (RAS, www.ras.org.uk), founded in 1820, encourages and promotes the study of astronomy, solar-system science, geophysics and closely related branches of science. The RAS organises scientific meetings, publishes international research and review journals, recognizes outstanding achievements by the award of medals and prizes, maintains an extensive library, supports education through grants and outreach activities and represents UK astronomy nationally and internationally. Its more than 4000 members (Fellows), a third based overseas, include scientific researchers in universities, observatories and laboratories as well as historians of astronomy and others.

T: https://twitter.com/royalastrosoc

F: https://facebook.com/royalastrosoc

 

The Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC, www.stfc.ac.uk) is keeping the UK at the forefront of international science and has a broad science portfolio and works with the academic and industrial communities to share its expertise in materials science, space and ground-based astronomy technologies, laser science, microelectronics, wafer scale manufacturing, particle and nuclear physics, alternative energy production, radio communications and radar.

STFC's Astronomy and Space Science programme provides support for a wide range of facilities, research groups and individuals in order to investigate some of the highest priority questions in astrophysics, cosmology and solar system science. STFC's astronomy and space science programme is delivered through grant funding for research activities, and also through support of technical activities at STFC's UK Astronomy Technology Centre and RAL Space at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory. STFC also supports UK astronomy through the international European Southern Observatory.

T: https://twitter.com/stfc_matters