March 1, 2014

Study Of Nearby Galaxy M83 Yields Surprising Find – A New Fast And Furious Black Hole

April Flowers for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

A new superpowered small black hole, called MQ1, has been discovered by a team of Australian and American astronomers who were studying nearby galaxy M83. MQ1 is the first object of its kind to be studied in this much detail.

Previously, astronomers have found a few compact objects as powerful as MQ1, but they have been unable to calculate the size of the black hole contained within until now.

Using multiple telescopes, the team's observations of MQ1 revealed that it is a standard-sized small black hole, rather than a slightly bigger version that was theorized to account for all its power.

Dr. Roberto Soria, a senior research fellow at Curtin University, is part of the International Center for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR). Soria, who led the team investigating MQ1, said that it was important to understand how stars were formed, how they evolved and how they died, within a spiral shaped galaxy like M83.

“MQ1 is classed as a microquasar - a black hole surrounded by a bubble of hot gas, which is heated by two jets just outside the black hole, powerfully shooting out energy in opposite directions, acting like cosmic sandblasters pushing out on the surrounding gas,” Dr Soria said.

“The significance of the huge jet power measured for MQ1 goes beyond this particular galaxy: it helps astronomers understand and quantify the strong effect that black hole jets have on the surrounding gas, which gets heated and swept away."

“This must have been a significant factor in the early stages of galaxy evolution, 12 billion years ago, because we have evidence that powerful black holes like MQ1, which are rare today, were much more common at the time.”

“By studying microquasars such as MQ1, we get a glimpse of how the early universe evolved, how fast quasars grew and how much energy black holes provided to their environment.” said Soria. Comparatively, SS433, the most powerful microquasar in our galaxy, is approximately 10 times less powerful than MQ1.

The black hole in MQ1 is only about 62 miles wide. However, the MQ1 structure — as identified by the Hubble Space Telescope — is much larger than our Solar System. The jets surrounding it extend about 20 light years from either side of the black hole.

There are various sizes of black holes, and they are categorized as either stellar mass — less than 70 times the mass of our Sun — or supermassive — millions of times the mass of our Sun. The giant black hole at the center of the Milky Way is an example of a supermassive black hole.

MQ1, on the other hand, is a stellar mass black hole that was likely formed when a star died and collapsed to leave behind a compact mass.

MQ1's discovery and its characteristics is just one of the various results to come from this comprehensive study of galaxy M83, a collection of millions of stars just 15 million light years away from Earth.

The Hubble Space and Magellan telescopes (detecting visible light), the Chandra X-ray Observatory (detecting light in X-ray frequencies), the Australia Telescope Compact Array and the Very Large Array (detecting radio waves) are mapping the iconic Southern-sky galaxy.

The details of their observations were recently published in Science.