Dissecting a turbulent black hole’s surroundings
An international team of astronomers using five different telescopes has uncovered striking features around a supermassive black hole in the core of the distant galaxy Markarian 509 (Mrk 509). They found a very hot corona hovering above the black hole and cold gas “bullets” in hotter diffuse gas, speeding outward with velocities over 1 million miles per hour.
This corona absorbs and reprocesses the ultraviolet light from the accretion disk encircling the black hole, energizing it and converting it into X-rays. This discovery allows astronomers to make sense of some of the observations of active galaxies that have been hard to explain so far.
The Cosmic Origins Spectrograph aboard Hubble reveals that the coolest gas in the line of sight toward Markarian 509 has 14 different velocity components at various locations in the innermost parts of this galaxy.
Hubble’s data, combined with X-ray observations, show that most of the visible outflowing gas is blown off from a dusty gas disk surrounding the central region more than 15 light-years away from the black hole. This outflow consists of dense, cold blobs or gas bullets embedded in hotter diffuse gas.
Images: (1) Image of Mrk 509 taken in April 2007 with Hubble’s Wide Field Planetary Camera 2. (2) In this artist’s illustration, turbulent winds of gas swirl around a black hole. Some of the gas is spiraling inward toward the black hole, but another part is blown away.