December 16, 2017

13.02.11: A Monster in M87.

NASA’s Chandra X-Ray observatory recently peered into the heart of the M87 galaxy in the constellation Virgo. Well known to backyard observers as one of the highlights of the Virgo galaxy cluster, M87 harbors something truly spectacular; one of the most massive black holes known. In fact, researchers American Astronomical Society meeting in Seattle Washington earlier last month upgraded to WOW factor of the M87, calculating a mass of 6.6 billion suns.

Just how do we know something so massive resides at the heart of this galaxy 50 million light years distant? Well, taking a cue from Yoda in Star Wars: Attack of the Clones, astronomers can see the effects of the massive gravitational pull on nearby stars. Something really massive is pulling those stars in to a tight dance, and it resides in an area less than a light year square. Secondly, these compact beasts emit huge amounts of energy in the form of X-rays and radio waves as they gobble up in falling matter. Once thought to be rare, astronomers are coming to realize that a supermassive black hole may reside in the heart of every galaxy. We’re no exception; a several million mass black hole dubbed Sagittarius A* (say “Sagittarius A star”) is a strong radio emitter at the core of our own Milky Way galaxy…

All this gets thoughts of gravitational lenses dancing in astronomers heads. Some weird physics takes place near the event horizon of these super massive black holes, as the fabric of space gets distorted and time grinds to a halt… it’s not inconceivable that we may see our first “event horizon image” in the next decade of astronomy, and M87 and the Chandra X-Ray observatory might just be where it comes from!

Comments

  1. Jill Swenson says:

    David, I find your site fascinating; rich with content. Especially nice are the science book reviews. I have two to suggest. One is Cathryn Prince, _A Professor, a President and A Meteor: The Birth of American Science_, published Dec 2010 by Prometheus. The second is coming out april 15, 2011 by Andrew Kessler, _Martian Summer_ published by Pegasus.

  2. David Dickinson says:

    Thanks; have and am reading “A Professor, a President & a Meteor”… post is slated for March 4th. Martian Summer is a good tip. Thanks!

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  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by David Dickinson and Ramiz Qureshi, Robert P Reibold. Robert P Reibold said: 13.02.11: A Monster in M87. : Astro Guyz: This was taken by NASA's Chandra X-Ray observatory of the heart of the… http://bit.ly/fgQGlD [...]

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