Black Hole Blows Giant Plasma Bubble Like A Child Blowing Bubble Gum
October 29, 2012

Black Hole Blows Giant Plasma Bubble Like A Child Blowing Bubble Gum

Michael Harper for — Your Universe Online

The team at ASTRON, the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy, has been pointing their low Frequency Array (or LOFAR) telescope at the sky since 2010, using bands of low frequencies to observe the heavens. With LOFAR, ASTRON is able to look deep into the heavens for signals of galaxies and other far away objects that haven´t yet reached earth.

Now, after using a new, international version of LOFAR, called (ILT), the ASTRON team has observed some very interesting black hole behavior: Namely, they´ve observed a black hole blowing a giant bubble of plasma.

The idea of black holes blowing gas bubbles isn´t a new one.

Black holes have been known to spit out matter as opposed to violently sucking it in. When this happens, the black holes create a thin stream of particles which travels at nearly the speed of light. Once this stream begins to slow down, a bubble is created. According to ASTRON, these bubbles are filled with a radio emitting plasma and can easily overtake the nearby galaxy. Such plasma bubbles are invisible to other telescopes, but because these bubbles emit radio waves, telescopes such as the ILT are able to observe this behavior.

Now, the ILT has taken some of the best images of this black hole bubble, an advancement which Francesco de Gasperin, lead author of a corresponding study says is of “great importance.”

"It shows the enormous potential of LOFAR, and provides compelling evidence of the close ties between black hole, host galaxy, and their surroundings,” he adds.

Gasperin´s study will be published in the Journal Astronomy and Astrophysics.

Calling the relationship between a black hole and a galaxy a symbiotic one, Gasperin explains that both entities have something to provide to one another. The black hole takes matter from the galaxy to feed itself and, in return, the black hole provides much needed energy to the galaxy.

The galaxy pictured in these ILT images is Messier 87, a large elliptical galaxy in the Virgo constellation, some 60 million light years away from Earth.

According to ASTRON, Messier 87 is much larger than our own galaxy, more than 2,000 times larger than the Milky Way. In the center of this huge and distant galaxy sites an equally massive black hole, with more than 6 billion times the mass of our sun.

At the speed at which this black hole consumes matter and objects, it would take this black hole only a few minutes to consume the whole of Earth. Some of the remnants of the matter devoured by this black hole are then turned into the particle streams which feed the large plasma balloons.

Upon discovery, the ASTRON team set out to discover the age of the balloon. Using radio observations at different frequencies from the Very Large Array in New Mexico and the Effelsberg 100-meter radio telescope near Bonn, Germany, the ASTRON team estimates this bubble is relatively young when placed in a cosmic context, just 40 million years young.

"This is the first time such high-quality images are possible at these low frequencies," exclaimed professor Heino Falcke, chairman of the board of the ILT. Falcke also shared authoring duties with Gasperin.

"This was a challenging observation; we did not expect to get such fantastic results so early in the commissioning phase of LOFAR," said Falcke.

In 2010, researchers from the University of Strasbourg, France discovered a similar bubble from a black hole near the NGC 7793 galaxy, a spiral cosmic neighborhood about 12 million light-years away from Earth. This black hole also sported a massive pair of jets, the size of which are normally found on much larger black holes.