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Friday, July 29, 2011

Scientists capture first clear X-ray image of the flow of gas towards a black hole - 29th July 2011

The flow of hot gas toward a black hole has been clearly imaged for the first time in X-rays.

The observations from Nasa’s Chandra X-ray Observatory will help tackle two of the most fundamental problems in modern astrophysics - understanding how black holes grow and how matter behaves in their intense gravity.

The black hole is at the centre of a large galaxy known as NGC 3115, located some 32million light-years from Earth.

A large amount of previous data has shown material falling towards and onto black holes, but none with this clear a signature of hot gas.

By imaging the hot gas at different distances from the supermassive black hole, scientists at the University of Alabama have observed a critical threshold where the motion of gas first becomes dominated by the black hole’s gravity and falls inward.

The distance from the black hole is known as the 'Bondi radius'.

Lead researcher Dr Ka-Wah Wong said: 'It’s exciting to find such clear evidence for gas in the grip of a massive black hole.

'Chandra’s resolving power provides a unique opportunity to understand more about how black holes capture material by studying this nearby object.'

As gas flows toward a black hole, it becomes squeezed, making it hotter and brighter, a signature now confirmed by the X-ray observations. Read More