Astronomers using the NASA / ESA Hubble Space Telescope have observed an unlikely thin disc of material encircling and a supermassive black hole in the spiral galaxy NGC 3147, located 130 million light-years away.
The presence of the black hole disc in such a low-luminosity active galaxy has surprised astronomers. Black holes in certain types of galaxies such as NGC 3147 are considered to be starving as there is insufficient gravitationally captured material to feed them regularly. It is therefore puzzling that there is a thin disc encircling and a foaming black hole that mimics the much larger discs found in extremely active galaxies
Of particular interest, this disc of material circling the black hole offers a unique opportunity to test Albert Einstein's theories of relativity. The disc is so deeply embedded in the intense gravitational field of the black hole that the light from the gas disc is altered, according to these theories, giving astronomers a unique peek at the dynamic processes near a black hole
"We've never seen the effects of both general and special relativity in visible light with this much clarity, "said team member Marco Chiaberge of AURA for ESA, STScI and Johns Hopkins University
The disc's material was measured by Hubble to be whirling around black hole at more than 10% of the speed of light. At such extreme speeds, the gas appears to brighten as it travels to Earth on one side, and dims as it speeds away from our planet on the other. This effect is known as relativistic beaming. Hubble's observations also show that the gas is embedded so deep into a gravitational well that light is struggling to escape, and therefore appears stretched to redder wavelengths.
"The type of disc we see is a scaled-down quasar that we did not expect to exist, "Bianchi explained. "
The team hopes to use Hubble to hunt for other very compact discs around low-luminosity black holes in similar active galaxies
The team's paper will appear in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society .
Hubble observes tiny galaxy with big heart
Stefano Bianchi et al. HST unveils and compact mildly relativistic broad-line region in the candidate true type 2 NGC 3147, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society: Letters (2019). DOI: 10.1093 / mnrasl / slz080
Hubble discovers the mysterious black hole disc (2019, July 11)
retrieved 11 July 2019
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