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XMM-Newton spaceborne closer to a blackhole


Illustration of a supermassive black hole at the centre of a galaxy. Photo Credit: ESA

NEW DELHI (BNS): Astronomers have searched closer than ever to a super massive black hole lying deep at the core of a distant active galaxy by using new data from ESA's XMM-Newton space borne observatory.

The galaxy – known as 1H0707-495 – was observed during four 48-hr-long orbits of XMM-Newton around Earth, starting in January 2008. The black hole at its centre was thought to be partially obscured from view by intervening clouds of gas and dust, but these current observations have revealed the innermost depths of the galaxy.

"We can now start to map out the region immediately around the black hole," says Andrew Fabian, at the University of Cambridge, as quoted to Science daily.

XMM-Newton detected two bright features of iron emission in the reflected X-rays that had never been seen together in an active galaxy. These bright features are known as the iron L and K lines, and they can be so bright only if there is a high abundance of iron. Seeing both in this galaxy suggests that the core is much richer in iron than the rest of the galaxy.

The direct X-ray emission varies in brightness with time. During the observation, the iron L line was bright enough for its variations to be followed. It also reveal that the black hole is spinning very rapidly and eating matter so quickly that it verges on the theoretical limit of its eating ability, swallowing the equivalent of two Earths per hour.

According, to the science release, the team is continuing to track the galaxy using their new technique and doing a brief study on them. Far from being a steady process, like water slipping down a plughole, a feeding black hole is a messy eater.

"Accretion is a very messy process because of the magnetic fields that are involved," says Fabian.

“Their new technique will enable the astronomers to map out the process in all its glorious complexity, taking them to previously unseen regions at the very edges of this and other super massive black holes,” he said.

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