Astronomers Discover Clouds Circling Supermassive Black Holes

Posted on February 20, 2014

Astronomers using data from NASA's Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer have discovered that clouds circle supermassive black holes. The data was collected over a sixteen year period. NASA says the data indicates x-ray signals from active galaxies dimmed as a result of clouds of gas moving across the line of sight. UC San Diego astronomers say it was previously thought there would be a uniform, fog-like ring around black holes, but the data indicates that accreting matter forms clumps big enough to occasionally dim the radiation emitting from the enormous black holes.

Alex Markowitz, an astrophysicist at the University of California, San Diego and the Karl Remeis Observatory in Bamberg, Germany, says in a statement, "One of the great unanswered questions about AGN is how gas thousands of light-years away funnels into the hot accretion disk that feeds the supermassive black hole. Understanding the size, shape and number of clouds far from the black hole will give us a better idea of how this transport mechanism operates."

Heere is an animation of an artist's rendition of the clouds surrounding a supermassive black hole:

A research paper on the black hole gas clouds was published here in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

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