The ESA x-ray mission misbehaves with a distant black hole

Likening its action to 'flipping' the dinner table, a team using ESA's XMM-Newton has probed an unusual black hole at the center of the galaxy Markarian 817.

One of the European Space Agency's space observatories has made a remarkable discovery at the center of an otherwise unremarkable galaxy: an incredibly energetic black hole „wind”.

Using XMM-Newton, an X-ray spectroscopy mission launched by ESA at the turn of the century, an international team of astronomers was able to detect what they described as a superfast black hole wind originating from a galaxy called Markarian 817.

Black holes are some of the most mysterious objects in the universe, often found at the center of large galaxies, known as disks that suck up the surrounding stardust clouds in a ring. This process is crucial for the formation of new stars.

However, much of that matter is ejected by the black hole in its superfast jet of hot gas and dust. And sometimes, the ESA says, a black hole „flips the whole dinner table” by spewing material from all directions — dislodging the surrounding gas.

According to the team making these observations on Markarian 817, this occasional event not only causes the black hole to lose its food, but also changes the structure of the galaxy to prevent new stars from forming.

„If you run a fan to its highest setting, you can expect a very fast wind,” said Miranda Sack, an undergraduate researcher at the University of Michigan who was central to the study.

„In a galaxy called Markarian 817, the fan was turned on at a low power setting, but still produced incredibly powerful winds.”

Basically, superfast black hole winds have only been detected from very bright accretion discs, but the new wind detected by XMM-Newton comes from a „distinct average” galaxy, which it describes as „a single snack”.

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„It is very rare to observe high-speed winds, and even rarer to find winds with enough energy to change the nature of their host galaxy,” explained co-author Elias Kammun, an astronomer at Roma Tre University. Italy.

„The fact that Markarian 817 produced this wind for a year, especially when not active, suggests that black holes can reshape their host galaxies more than previously thought.”

According to ESA, a detailed analysis of XMM-Newton X-ray measurements shows that rather than sending out a „puff” of gas, the core of Markarian 817 created a diffuse storm in the accretion disk. .

This wind lasted for hundreds of days and consisted of „at least” three distinct components, each moving at „several” percent of the speed of light.

„Many of the outstanding problems in the study of black holes are achieving detections with long observations that extend beyond several hours to capture critical events,” said Norbert Shortell, ESA's XMM-Newton project scientist.

„This highlights the critical importance of the XMM-Newton mission for the future. No other mission can offer the combination of its high sensitivity and long, uninterrupted observational capabilities.

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A black hole is ejected from the center of a galaxy. Image: ESA / ATG (CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO bond)

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