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Black Hole Observed by X-Ray Satellite 143

Posted by Zonk
from the it's-waaay-out-there dept.
eldavojohn writes "Scientists at JAXA and NASA used the Japanese Suzaku satellite to collect data and observations at a distance nearer to a black hole than we've ever been. From the article: 'The observations include clocking the speed of a black hole's spin rate and measuring the angle at which matter pours into the void, as well as evidence for a wall of X-ray light pulled back and flattened by gravity. The findings rely on a special feature in the light emitted close to the black hole, called the "broad iron K line," once doubted by some scientists because of poor resolution in earlier observations, now unambiguously revealed as a true measure of a black hole's crushing gravitational force.' Suzaku also has been providing images and data of super novas and their activities. It's always nice to see national space agencies working together, it almost gives me hope that the world might one day be united in space exploration."
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Black Hole Observed by X-Ray Satellite

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  • by GroeFaZ (850443) on Tuesday October 10, 2006 @12:56PM (#16379877)
    "Nothing for you to see here. Move along."
  • by GillBates0 (664202) on Tuesday October 10, 2006 @12:57PM (#16379887) Homepage Journal









    • by steveo777 (183629)
      Ahh... the elusive 'white spot'. Quite the opposite of the black hole. It has no gravity whatsoever.
      • <---Here's the actual image
  • I'm impressed, they see something coming out of it. I thought we observed black holes by what they did to matter and space (bending light) and radiation emissions.

    Exactly how much closer is this black hole and do we need to start worrying about it, now...

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      What good would worrying about a black hole do? It's not like we can push it away...
      • by XxtraLarGe (551297) on Tuesday October 10, 2006 @01:15PM (#16380207) Journal
        Well, maybe YOU can't push it away...
        • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

          by Anonymous Coward
          Chuck Norris can!
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        Actually, you could. Get a massive object on the opposite side of the black hole. Get it close enough that you can maintain a thrust that will keep you at a steady point relative to the black hole. Make sure thrust is angled so it will not "strike" the black hole.

        Using this process, gravity will pull the black hole away.

        Now, this would take one hell of a lot of energy to do, but it is possible.
        • by 4D6963 (933028)

          lol, yeah, using a huge star. I'm not sure what your plan consists in anyways, but I think the best would be to "throw" the biggest star you can from where you stand to the side of the black hole, to have the black hole to capture the star (in its orbit, not inside of its event horizon) and become a binary system. If you throw your star fast enough you'll get the new binary system to move away from you.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            If this is your plan, then it would not matter whether it orbited or not. You could just throw it in the event horizon. Wouldn't matter.
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by 4D6963 (933028)

              You could just throw it in the event horizon

              Are you sure? I thought about that and it just didn't appear obvious to me, although it would make sense, I just thought making them a binary system was a safer bet.

          • So my question... can I use my gravity gun to hurtle the star so the black hole follows the star?

            but wait... there is no gravity gun... WTF are we to do now? Call Dr Freeman!
          • by PagosaSam (884523)
            They are studying super massive black holes are the center of galaxies. You are going to need to throw a lot of stars at that sucker, like millions!
    • by Firehed (942385)
      I thought the whole premise of a black hole was that nothing came out of it. Surely whatever we're observing has some pretty special properties if it can escape a black hole when even light can't do such a thing.
      • by Anthony (4077) *
        IANAAP (AP=Astro-Physicist) but my understanding is what we can observe is the "dying screams" of matter as it is dragged into the blackhole (hence the high-energy radiation - X-Rays). At the precise boundary, matter and energy are transmitted in either direction, into or away from the black hole in directions as shown in the models.
      • by x2A (858210)
        Nope [colorado.edu].

        (note that this isn't what they're observing, but x-rays from just outside the blackhole, but I thought i'd point it out for interests sake)

        • Exactly. Or as someone else put it, "black holes are fuzzy, but they have no hair".

          The exact border of a black hole is slightly imprecise, or fuzzy, and a particle pair which appears right on this border can have one particle get swallowed but have the other escape. So black holes actually radiate a small amount of this so-called Hawking radiation, and a tiny black hole (ie, one massing much less than the moon does), will eventually evaporate if it doesn't keep swallowing mass.
  • it's a start (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mikesd81 (518581) <mikesd1 AT verizon DOT net> on Tuesday October 10, 2006 @01:05PM (#16380043) Homepage
    it almost gives me hope that the world might one day be united in space exploration."

    It's a place to start. Every nation has scientists that are specialists in their own field, if we can get together and share information about space, imagine the possibilities.
  • I have never found a really good explanation for this: How do we know a blackhole truly has an infinite density, and not just so incredibly dense that it, in fact, has a stronger gravity than even light can escape? My mind has a difficult time with something becoming infinitely small. I can understand it becoming so tight that there is no space between the smallest particles, but cannot fathom something smaller than that.

    Can anyone help me out here?
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Strictly speaking, we have no knowledge about what happens inside the event horizon - we can't, by definition. However, we know the forces are extremely strong at the event horizon, and they'd only get stronger as it collapses still further, and we know of no force that would stop the collapse, so the logical conclusion is that it collapses to infinite density.
      • Re:Serious Question (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 10, 2006 @01:37PM (#16380505)
        PhysicsPhil has a pretty good explanation. Here's another way of phrasing it.

        Electrons, neutrons, and so on don't really exist as volumes, but rather as forces. Think about a balloon filled with air; it takes up space, but the only reason it does is because of the pressure of the air inside pushes out on the surface.

        Now, if you squeeze the balloon, it'll shrink. The more you squeeze, the smaller it gets. If you could squeeze as hard as you please, you can continue to shrink the balloon smaller and smaller.

        Particles are like that. Gravity is unique in that it's a force that can get infinitely strong, so it can overcome any other force, and squeeze everything together down to an arbitrarily small point.

        Interestingly, from the perspective of a star collapsing into a black hole, it never actually quite makes it, as time slows down as gravity becomes stronger. It's like Zeno's paradox: If you try to go from point A to point B, crossing half the distance each time, do you ever get there? Intuitively, you'd think no, but if you take an infinite number of steps, yes.

        In other words, black holes, from the perspective of the black hole, take forever to collapse down to a singularity. However, from our perspective outside the black hole, the singularity forms essentially instanteously, as our subjective time speeds up relative to the black hole's subjective time.

        (As a side note, we don't have a theory of quantum gravity, so we don't actually know what the absolute center of a black hole is like, but we do understand the physics up to and past the event horizon, all the way to the singularity, all of which is just subject to general relativity. All the effects with astronomical significance occur outside the event horizon, as information that goes past there is effectively meaningless.)
        • by bodan (619290)

          As a side note, we don't have a theory of quantum gravity, so we don't actually know what the absolute center of a black hole is like, but we do understand the physics up to and past the event horizon, all the way to the singularity, all of which is just subject to general relativity. All the effects with astronomical significance occur outside the event horizon, as information that goes past there is effectively meaningless.)

          You know, I've been wandering about that and it feels a bit weird. Consider one

        • Re:Serious Question (Score:4, Informative)

          by snarkth (1002832) on Tuesday October 10, 2006 @06:45PM (#16384917)
          Interestingly, from the perspective of a star collapsing into a black hole, it never actually quite makes it, as time slows down as gravity becomes stronger.

            No. Time flows normally from the perspective of the star. It's for the outside observer that time appears to slow down (it never really would appear to *stop* it would just approach infinitely slow.)

            But for a hypothetical observer on the star, time would appear to proceed normally. Also, if I'm remembering right, for the star observer the *rest of the universe* would appear to slow down, as well, if there was some way to observe it. (I know that applies to high-percent of c velocities but can't remember if it applies to gravitational effects as well)

            *snark*
      • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Actually, there is NO force inside of an event horizon. There can't be, because time does not exist inside an event horizon, and force is a function of time.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by PhysicsPhil (880677)
      I have never found a really good explanation for this: How do we know a blackhole truly has an infinite density, and not just so incredibly dense that it, in fact, has a stronger gravity than even light can escape? My mind has a difficult time with something becoming infinitely small. I can understand it becoming so tight that there is no space between the smallest particles, but cannot fathom something smaller than that.

      In some sense, you have to trust that physicists know what they're doing. Absent an un
      • by RingDev (879105)
        So if time is a measurement of the movement of energy, and space is the (quantum) state of sub atomic particles, and no two particles can share the same state at the same time, then would it be a plausible explaination to say that the particles have moved in time in some way we are unable to measure?

        -Rick

      • > "Electron degeneracy pressure"

        I think I saw them open for Godspeed You Black Emperor once.
    • Re:Serious Question (Score:5, Informative)

      by khayman80 (824400) on Tuesday October 10, 2006 @01:30PM (#16380431) Homepage Journal
      I have never found a really good explanation for this: How do we know a blackhole truly has an infinite density, and not just so incredibly dense that it, in fact, has a stronger gravity than even light can escape? My mind has a difficult time with something becoming infinitely small. I can understand it becoming so tight that there is no space between the smallest particles, but cannot fathom something smaller than that.

      Good question. Short answer: we don't know.

      Long answer: According to the General Theory of Relativity, black holes have all their mass contained in a geometric point called the "singularity". This singularity is surrounded by a finite-sized spherical boundary called the "event horizon" which is defined as the locus of points where not even light can escape the gravity of the singularity. Because nothing (that we know of) can travel fast than light, the event horizon is a seemingly impenetrable barrier to any investigation of the singularity itself.

      So we're unlikely to view a singularity directly and measure its size. On the other hand, most physicists are convinced that the General Relativistic description of the singularity as a literal geometric point most be wrong. They believe this because very small objects are governed by quantum mechanics, and a new theory (which does not exist yet) called "Quantum Gravity" must take over at densities like those found in singularities.

      I'm generally a fairly skeptical chap, and it took a long time to even convince me that event horizons exist. For the longest time, all "proofs" of black holes basically said "here is something that is more dense than a neutron star, and since the ONLY THING more dense than a neutron star is a black hole, this object must be a black hole." I was never really convinced that there weren't other objects denser than neutron stars that didn't actually have event horizons, so this argument never swayed me. These recent observations seem to conclusively prove that event horizons exist, but singularities are an entirely different matter. We'll have to wait for the final word on that subject...

      • There is an easy proof that black holes exist:

        0

        As in zero, the number. QED. They are a physical manifestation of this concept, and like mass/0 they have 'undefined' density. Incidentally, this is also the reason why we have String Theory (although that does not actually exist). ;-P

        --
        I don't think QED means that I think it means...
      • by Fordiman (689627)
        Yeah, spank that pseudoscience.

        A black hole is not a geometric point. It's an object with none of its matter outside of its schwartzchild radius (for a given mass, the schwartzchild radius is the distance at which escape velocity is c). It's never been a geometric point; the term singluarity is used because the volume of a black hole is quite small.

        This 'infinite density' and 'zero volume' bullshit has been popularized by TV Sci fi.

      • by TopherC (412335)
        I'm replying to this comment since it was the best one I found answering the basic question "What's a singularity?"

        I wanted to add that string theory, I believe, has a solution to the problem of a singularity. I believe string theorists claim to have a way of representing black holes without a singularity.

        The two well-established theories in physics are general relativity (GR) and the standard model of particle physics. Unfortunately these are not self-consistent. This is an unsatifsying situation for an
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by meringuoid (568297)
      How do we know a blackhole truly has an infinite density, and not just so incredibly dense that it, in fact, has a stronger gravity than even light can escape? My mind has a difficult time with something becoming infinitely small. I can understand it becoming so tight that there is no space between the smallest particles, but cannot fathom something smaller than that.

      'No space between the smallest particles' is basically what a neutron star is. It's essentially a mass of neutrons edge to edge, held up by

    • A black hole is not a literal physical singularity. There are "bigger" ones and "smaller" ones. It is instead a mathematical singularity: it can be treated as a point object in the sense that if you lay out a gravitational grid across the universe, each black hole is a point, a hole on that grid where nothing comes out.

      So why do black holes emit X-rays and Hawking radiation or why do they emit stuff at all?

      The black holes don't emit anything per se. However, as particles close to the event horizon are ac
    • by necro81 (917438)
      It depends, in part, on which theory you are using to describe the conditions inside the event horizon. General Relativity will say that, without question, the black hole's mass will collapse on itself down to a single, infinitessimal point which, because it has finite mass and zero volume, has infinite density. It is, as some people say, what happens when God divides by zero. Others call it a singularity, which has all kinds of mathematical connotations.

      Quantum Mechanics, on the other hand, doesn't l
      • by osu-neko (2604)
        Of course, any disagreement about what's beyond the event horizon is a philosophical disagreement, not a scientific one. :)
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by DragonWriter (970822)

          Of course, any disagreement about what's beyond the event horizon is a philosophical disagreement, not a scientific one. :)

          The disagreement can be quite scientific. Of course, what is beyond an event horizon cannot be observed, but that's not the point: a hypothesis which would provide an answer for what goes on there could, if it is sufficiently general (such as a general resolution of the conflicts between GR and QM), quite easily produce expirementally falsifiable predictions of events outside of the

    • by greylion3 (555507)
      Einstein didn't like the notion of black holes either.
      I favor the theory that they are in fact MECOs, not black holes.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magnetospheric_eterna lly_collapsing_object [wikipedia.org]

      Favorite quote: "[Quasar] Q0957+561 has a magnetic field, which a black hole cannot have."

      If we find that 'black holes' have magnetic fields, then they are MECOs instead - at least until a better theory comes along.
    • by wrook (134116)
      Hmm... I'm not a physicist, but perhaps I can reword things in a way that will help you view things in a different way. Someone has already replied with a similar reply, but I'm not sure it is obvious what they are saying.

      If you look at "particles" in an atom as being real physical objects (like raisons in an oatmeal cookie), it's hard to understand that they can be compressed. But you can't directly observe* a "particle" as small as an electron (or even smaller), because they don't behave like matter on
  • Then isn't it just a star in a different frequency?

    Could we consider our own sun a Yellow hole since we cannot see into the middle of it?
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      The X-rays aren't coming "out of" the black hole; they're emitted by the incoming matter getting crunched to oblivion just outside of the event horizon.
      • by ajs (35943)
        The X-rays aren't coming "out of" the black hole; they're emitted by the incoming matter getting crunched to oblivion just outside of the event horizon.


        Yes and no. Certainly that makes up the vast majority of the light shed from the region around an event horizon, but there are other sources of radiation. Hawking Radiation, for example.
        • by iamlucky13 (795185) on Tuesday October 10, 2006 @02:06PM (#16380963)
          Because Hawking radiation scales inversely to the area of the event horizon, the Hawking radiation from anything but extremely small black holes (which we don't even know actually exist) is negligible and far below what we have the ability to detect. It is literally less than the background radiation of space.

          For practical purposes, the grandparent is correct, if a little simplified.

          You may find it interesting though, that if small black holes actually do exist (they would have to be incidental products of the Big Bang), we may be able to detect their last moments of evaporation by Hawking radiation as x-ray/gamma ray bursts. Some researchers are plan to look use data from one of NASA's upcoming x-ray observatories to look for such flashes that can not be attributed to other known sources.
          • by ajs (35943)

            Because Hawking radiation scales inversely to the area of the event horizon, the Hawking radiation from anything but extremely small black holes (which we don't even know actually exist) is negligible and far below what we have the ability to detect.

            Yes, but as I pointed out, that's just one of the better known forms of radiation eminating from the region of a black hole. Other forms include the extragalactic jet formed by the interaction between the black hole's magnetic field lines and its accretion disk

  • by Channard (693317) on Tuesday October 10, 2006 @01:10PM (#16380133) Journal
    Why does no-one ever discover giant kittens at the centre of galaxies? Or that dark matter is made out of candyfloss? I need more comforting science, dammit!
  • Getting closer.... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jfengel (409917) on Tuesday October 10, 2006 @01:10PM (#16380137) Homepage Journal
    Given that the black hole is a few zillion light-years from earth, I don't think that this satellite is much closer to it than anything ground-based. But the satellite has a much clearer view of the black hole (or at least, of its event horizon) without the atmosphere in the way, and that's what the press release means by "closer to the edge".
    • "Closer to the edge" refers to resolving power, not space vs ground. Since they are observing in the x-ray frequencies they have to observe from space. Ground based x-ray astronomy is impossible due to atmospheric absoarption.
      • They probably mean closer to the singularity. That would translate into harder (higher frequency, more energetic) x-rays. So the statement would amount to saying they are observing harder xrays than has been possible in the past.
        • by neurostar (578917)

          We can observe the full spectrum of x-rays already. By "getting closer" they mean we are now able to obtain data in a smaller radius, ie - closer to the black hole.

  • Broad iron K line (Score:2, Interesting)

    by pkvon (899533)
    In case you're interested in what the K-Iron broad line is check out http://arxiv.org/abs/astro-ph/0212065 [arxiv.org] and http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2005/spacetime.html [mit.edu]
  • The paper (Score:4, Insightful)

    by drxray (839725) on Tuesday October 10, 2006 @01:32PM (#16380451) Homepage
    The MCG -6-30-15 paper [arxiv.org] referred to in the press release. I don't think the MCG -5-23-16 paper has been made public yet.

    The most interesting thing about the paper is that Suzaku's Hard X-ray Detector (which operates in a comparatively poorly studied waveband) is consistent (based on the model of an accretion disc around a spinning black hole) with what's happening in the softer X-ray band.
  • by BlabberMouth (672282) on Tuesday October 10, 2006 @01:37PM (#16380513)
    they invented the Sudoku satellite. But what does that have to do with black holes?
  • How much closer to the black hole can this satellite really be? Isn't this a bit like asking Shaq to describe the moon to us because when he stands up, he's a foot closer?
    • by Kingrames (858416)
      That's only true 50% of the time.

      You may hand over your geek badge at the nearest station.
      • by untree (851145)
        That's quite an oversimplification. If you take into account both the moon's orbit and the distribution of the Earth's population, I think you would find it's far less than 50% of the time. There are angles between "up" for Shaq and "up" for whichever individual you select, and a third angle with wherever the Moon is in its orbit.

        Just sayin'.
    • Shaq is only closer than you are when he is standing closer to it (when the moon is over you, or when you are closer to the moon than Shaq is, then you would be the authority). That being said, he is likely NEVER the closerest person to the moon (the moon is over people only slightly shorter than Shaq most of the time.

      That being said, the analogy is still bad, this is a space-based satelite. It is not subject to things like atmosphere and earth-based electromagnetic interference.

      This is more like wearing
      • I can't believe three people decided to analyze the accuracy of my Shaq analogy. (Ok, it's slashdot, I guess I can.) I meant it to be funny, not scientific. But my basic point still holds, that while the satellite is closer to the black hole than Earth, I suspect that the difference in distance is barely significant.

        This is more like wearing a pair of dark sunglasses, and asking someone without sunglasses to describe the colors.

        Now that makes a lot of sense. The advantage is not in being closer to the b

  • "... it almost gives me hope that the world might one day be united in space exploration."
    I hope that doesn't happen. International cooperation gave us the ISS: a project without a mission. Competition got us into orbit and to the Moon. Competition is good.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by R3d M3rcury (871886)
      Competition got us into orbit and to the Moon.
      And, once the competition was over, there was no need to go back. That's the problem with competition: Once you've won the race, it's over. You go home and rest on your laurels.

      Personally, I like the idea of cooperation towards a goal. It seems to improve the chances that we'll stay awhile. Heck, ISS has been manned for something like five years.
  • But is it supermassive?
  • Hope! What hope? (Score:5, Informative)

    by IEEEmember (610961) on Tuesday October 10, 2006 @03:12PM (#16382035) Journal
    it almost gives me hope that the world might one day be united in space exploration

    I guess you missed yesterday's story [slashdot.org] documenting the US' clear intention to be the single entity with control over access to space; 'The policy calls upon the Secretary of Defense to "develop capabilities, plans, and options to ensure freedom of action in space, and, if directed, deny such freedom of action to adversaries."'
    • by FleaPlus (6935) *
      I guess you missed yesterday's story documenting the US' clear intention to be the single entity with control over access to space; 'The policy calls upon the Secretary of Defense to "develop capabilities, plans, and options to ensure freedom of action in space, and, if directed, deny such freedom of action to adversaries."'

      By that same logic, the US has also announced a clear intention to be the "single entity with control over access to the air." After all, the Air Force's mission is more-or-less to "deve
  • Is that black hole near to Milky Way Galaxy? I wonder how many on these black holes last for a longer period of time as most of them collapse under their own massive gravitational force
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_hole [wikipedia.org]

    Someone better hurry. This is a fast-developing situation, and no one knows what'll happen to the article when the MECO [wikipedia.org] people get their hands on it.
  • They're yellow holes.
  • Serious question. Any speculation as to what would happen should two black holes get caught in each other's event horizons?
  • Uniting exploration (or anything else for that matter) does not necessarly yield better results.
  • Looks like they've also made another amazing discovery: Carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen are MADE OF PEOPLE!

    The beautiful XIS spectrum demonstrates that Suzaku has an ability to attain to new knowledge on the chemical evolution of the interstellar materials of carbon, nitrogen and oxygens, the vital elements consisting of the human bodies. http://www.jaxa.jp/press/2005/08/20050817_suzaku_e .html [www.jaxa.jp]

  • Since gamma radiation is basically photons, shouldn't those be absorbed by the black hole as well?
  • As far as I can tell, all those observations are compatible with the main alternative hypotheses to black holes as well, so it's wrong to say "black hole observed".

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