The closest actively feeding supermassive black hole to Earth has been imaged in detail.
The most detailed image of radio radiation from the nearest actively feeding supermassive black hole to Earth has been created by astronomers.
The radiation is powered by a core black hole in the galaxy Centaurus A, which is located approximately 12 million light years away.
As it feeds on infalling gas, the black hole ejects material at near light speed, producing ‘radio bubbles’ to form over hundreds of millions of years.
When observed from Earth, the eruption from Centaurus A now spans eight degrees across the sky—equivalent to the length of sixteen full Moons placed side by side.
It was photographed with the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) telescope in Western Australia’s outback.
The image, according to lead author Dr Benjamin McKinley of the Curtin University node of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR), reveals amazing new details of the galaxy’s radio emission.
“These radio waves come from material being sucked into the supermassive black hole in the middle of the galaxy,” Dr. Mckinley said.
“It forms a disc around the black hole, and as the matter gets ripped apart going close to the black hole, powerful jets form on either side of the disc, ejecting most of the material back out into space, to distances of probably more than a million light years.
“Previous radio observations could not handle the extreme brightness of the jets and details of the larger area surrounding the galaxy were distorted, but our new image overcomes these limitations.”
Centaurus A is the radio galaxy closest to our own Milky Way.
“We can learn a lot from Centaurus A in particular, just because it is so close and we can see it in such detail,” Dr McKinley added.
“Not just at radio wavelengths, but at all other wavelengths of light as well.
“In this research we’ve been able to combine the radio observations with optical and x-ray data, to help us better understand the physics of these supermassive black holes.”
Dr Massimo Gaspari of Italy’s National Institute for Astrophysics said the work validated a revolutionary theory known as ‘Chaotic Cold Accretion’ (CCA), which is gaining traction in a variety of sectors.
“In this model, clouds of cold gas condense in the galactic halo and rain down onto the central regions, feeding the supermassive black hole,” he said.
“Triggered by this rain, the black hole vigorously reacts by launching energy back via radio jets that inflate the spectacular lobes we see in the MWA image. This study is one of the first to probe in such detail the multiphase CCA ‘weather’ over the full range of scales”, Dr Gaspari concluded.
According to Dr. McKinley, the galaxy seems brighter near the center, where it is more active and has a lot of energy.
“Then it’s fainter as you go out because the energy’s been lost and things have settled down,” he said.
“But there are interesting features where charged particles have re-accelerated and are interacting with strong magnetic fields.”