Thursday, March 21, 2024

An 'Underachieving' Black Hole Identified | NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory

An 'Underachieving' Black Hole Identified | NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory

Astronomers have revealed that a brilliant supermassive black hole is not living up to expectations. Although it is responsible for high levels of radiation and powerful jets, this giant black hole is not as influential as many of its counterparts in other galaxies.

A new study using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory looked at the closest quasar to Earth that is in a cluster of galaxies. Quasars are a rare and extreme class of supermassive black holes that are furiously pulling material inwards, producing intense radiation and sometimes powerful jets. Known as H1821+643, this newly-studied quasar is about 3.4 billion light-years from Earth and contains a black hole weighing about four billion times that of the Sun.

Most growing supermassive black holes pull material in less quickly than those in quasars. Astronomers have studied the impact of these more common black holes by observing ones in the centers of galaxy clusters. Regular outbursts from such black holes prevent the huge amounts of superheated gas they are embedded in from cooling down. This limits how many stars form in their host galaxies and how much fuel gets funneled toward the black hole.

Astronomers know much less about how much influence quasars in galaxy clusters have on their surroundings. This new study with Chandra found that H1821+643 appears to have relinquished much of the control imposed by more slowly growing black holes. In other words, the black hole’s appetite is not matched by its influence.

The giant black hole is generating a lot less heat than most of the others in the centers of galaxy clusters. This allows the hot gas to rapidly cool down and form new stars, and also act as a fuel source for the black hole.

While this black hole may be underachieving by not pumping heat into its environment, the current state of affairs will likely not last forever. Eventually the rapid fuel intake by the black hole should increase the power of its jets and strongly heat the gas. The growth of the black hole and its galaxy should then drastically slow down.

Video Credit: NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory

Duration: 3 minutes

Release Date: March 21, 2024

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