28
Dec 10

How Often do Giant Black Holes Become Hyperactive?

Source: NASA/Chandra


Composite images of galaxies Abell 644, left, and galaxy SDSS J1021+131.
Image credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/Northwestern Univ/D.Haggard et al. Optical: SDSS

A new study from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory tells scientists how often the biggest black holes have been active over the last few billion years. This discovery clarifies how supermassive black holes grow and could have implications for how the giant black hole at the center of the Milky Way will behave in the future.

Most galaxies, including our own, are thought to contain supermassive black holes at their centers, with masses ranging from millions to billions of times the mass of the Sun. For reasons not entirely understood, astronomers have found that these black holes exhibit a wide variety of activity levels: from dormant to just lethargic to practically hyper.

The most lively supermassive black holes produce what are called "active galactic nuclei," or AGN, by pulling in large quantities of gas. This gas is heated as it falls in and glows brightly in X-ray light. (read more)

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