Super-Heavyweight Black Hole Found

Written by The Night Sky Guy on December 2, 2012 – 6:20 pm -

A monstrous black hole—17 billion times the mass of the Sun and possibly the largest ever detected—appears to be too big for its galactic home, leaving astronomers scratching their heads about its very existence.

The cosmic behemoth, at the heart of a distant galaxy, is estimated to be 4,000 times larger than the black hole at the center of the Milky Way.

Read more about this giant predator and why it may change our understanding of galaxies at my National Geographic story.

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Video: Weekly Space News Interview

Written by The Night Sky Guy on December 2, 2012 – 5:56 pm -

Check out some of the cool space news coming out this past week on my weekly CTV News Channel interview.

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Record-Breaking Blast from Black Hole

Written by The Night Sky Guy on November 28, 2012 – 11:39 pm -

Astronomers have witnessed a record breaking blast flowing out of a monster black hole more than 11.5 billion light years distant.

The supermassive predator with a mass of 1 to 3 billion suns lurks at the core of a quasar – a class of extremely bright and energetic galaxies –  dubbed SDSS J1106+1939.

Read more about this giant predator and how it may shed light on galaxy evolution at  National Geographic.

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Galactic Hurricane’s Eye

Written by The Night Sky Guy on July 26, 2009 – 3:51 pm -

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope has imaged a wild creature of the dark — a coiled galaxy with an eye-like object at its center. The galaxy, called NGC 1097, is located 50 million light-years away. It is spiral-shaped like our Milky Way, with long, spindly arms of stars. The “eye” at the center of the galaxy is actually a monstrous black hole surrounded by a ring of stars. In this color-coded infrared view from Spitzer, the area around the invisible black hole is blue and the ring of stars, white.The black hole is huge, about 100 million times the mass of our sun, and is feeding off gas and dust along with the occasional unlucky star. Our Milky Way’s central black hole is tame by comparison, with a mass of a few million suns. The ring around the black hole is bursting with new star formation. An inflow of material toward the central bar of the galaxy is causing the ring to light up with new stars. In the Spitzer image, infrared light with shorter wavelengths is blue, while longer- wavelength light is red. The galaxy’s red spiral arms and the swirling spokes seen between the arms show dust heated by newborn stars. Older populations of stars scattered through the galaxy are blue. The fuzzy blue dot to the left, which appears to fit snuggly between the arms, is a companion galaxy.

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Monster-sized Black Holes Bigger than Thought

Written by The Night Sky Guy on June 8, 2009 – 3:23 pm -

Astronomers this afternoon announced that they have used new computer modeling techniques to discover that the black hole at the heart of M87, one the largest nearby giant galaxies, is two to three times more massive than previously thought. Weighing in at 6.4 billion times the Sun’s mass, it is the most massive black hole yet measured with a robust technique, and suggests that the accepted black hole masses in nearby large galaxies may be off by similar amounts. This has consequences for theories of how galaxies form and grow, and might even solve a long-standing astronomical paradox.

To try to understand how galaxies form and grow, astronomers need start with basic census information about today’s galaxies. What are they made of? How big are they? How much do they weigh? Astronomers measure this last category, galaxy mass, by clocking the speed of stars orbiting within the galaxy.
Studies of the total mass are important, co-researcher Jens Thomas said, but “the crucial point is to determine whether the mass is in the black hole, the stars, or the dark halo. You have to run a sophisticated model to be able to discover which is which. The more components you have, the
more complicated the model is.”
To model M87, Gebhardt and Thomas used one of the world’s most powerful supercomputers, the Lonestar system at The University of Texas at Austin’s Texas Advanced Computing Center. Lonestar is a Dell Linux cluster with 5,840 processing cores and can perform 62 trillion floating-point operations per second. (Today’s top-of-the-line laptop computer has two cores and can perform up to 10 billion floating-point operations per second.)

Hubble sees M87 active jet

Hubble sees M87 active jet

Extremely massive and conveniently nearby (in astronomical terms), M87 was one of the first galaxies suggested to harbor a central black hole nearly three decades ago. It also has an active jet shooting light out of the galaxy’s core as matter swirls closer to the black hole, allowing astronomers to study the process by which black holes attract matter. Higher masses for black holes in nearby galaxies also could solve a paradox concerning the masses of quasars — active black holes at the centers of extremely distant galaxies, seen at a much earlier cosmic epoch.


Quasars shine brightly as the material spirals in, giving off copious radiation before crossing the event horizon (the region beyond which nothing — not even light — can escape). “There is a long-standing problem in that quasar black hole masses were very large — 10 billion solar masses,” co-author Karl Gebhardt said. “But in local galaxies, we never saw black holes that massive, not nearly. The suspicion was before that the quasar masses were wrong,” he said. But “if we increase the mass of M87 two or three times, the problem almost goes away.”

Courtesy of 214th meeting of American Astronomical Society in Pasedena, California

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