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Can Anything Escape A Black Hole?


NASA has observed a nearby supermassive black
hole “burping,” which has lead to new insights. Namely, that black holes make terrible
dinner guests. Hello earthlings, Julian here for DNews. On
January 5th, 2016 NASA announced that its Chandra X-ray Observatory has discovered something
quite peculiar. 26 million light years away, or what astronomers call “nearby,” the
supermassive black hole anchoring the galaxy NGC 5195 has spewed out two huge bursts of
energy. Lead author of the study Eric Schlegel of the University of Texas said that if black
holes can be described as eating nearby stars and gas, then this is analogous to a burp. NGC 5195 is colliding with a much larger galaxy
called NGC 5194, better known as the Whirlpool galaxy, because, well, look at it. It’s
possible the x-ray arcs were caused when matter was gravitationally catapulted as the galaxies
collided, but Schlegel rejects this idea. Instead astronomers think this ‘burping’ black
hole gorged itself on the Whirlpool galaxy’s dust, and the infalling matter had so much
energy it caused waves of X-Rays to “burp” out into space. Now, I know what you’re thinking. If there’s
one thing everybody knows about black holes, it’s that nothing gets out. If there’s
one thing that smart alecs know about black holes it’s that only Hawking radiation gets
out. So was the black hole somehow giving something back? Not really. What’s happening
here is the matter outside the Schwarzschild radius — or the point of no return — is
heating up from the galaxies colliding which is causing this blasting off of x-rays. In
fact some of the brightest objects in the universe are the areas surrounding supermassive
black holes called quasars. The bursts from NGC 5195 are different though because they’re
two distinct waves that were shot off 3 million and 6 million years ago. Interestingly, optical
telescopes found these waves of X-rays have formed thin lines of hydrogen gas at their
leading edges, like a snow plow or broom. It’s this line of gas and dust that definitively
shows the x-rays are traveling away from the black hole, not falling into it. Some areas
have pockets of HII, a hydrogen ion… commonly seen as a sign that new stars are forming,
so it’s possible this belching process answers a longstanding question. Often the area around supermassive black holes
are lacking in star formation, so it’s possible that this belch is a rarely glimpsed intermediate
stage where stars are forming but being pushed away from the center of the galaxy. Schlegel
says this may have been more common in the early universe when galaxies were more densely
packed, but today it’s harder to see examples of black hole feedback shaping star formation.
This “burping” black hole is close enough to be observed clearly by Chandra, which took
11 looks at it between 2000 and 2012 to gather this data. So these findings represent the
work of 15 years, and the exact process for how this release of energy happened is still
unknown. Schlegel himself says more research is needed. Black holes are one of the all-time coolest
astronomical topics, and it’s fun to think about what would happen if you fell into one.
Did I say fun? I meant horrifying. Anyway one of my first videos for DNews was about
just that and you can see it here. Do you feel like there are some stellar topics
(pun intended) we’re neglecting? Let us know in the comments, or on facebook or twitter
with the hashtag #AskDNews. Subscribe for more, and I’ll see you next time on DNews.

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