‘Smoking gun’ of black hole activation found

May 27th, 2010 - 12:56 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, May 27 (ANI): NASA’s Swift satellite has provided astronomers the answer to the long standing puzzle about why a small percentage of black holes emit vast amounts of energy.

The findings suggest that black holes “light up” when galaxies collide, and the data may offer insight into the future behaviour of the black hole in our own Milky Way galaxy.

“Theorists have shown that the violence in galaxy mergers can feed a galaxy’s central black hole,” said Michael Koss, the study’s lead author and a graduate student at the University of Maryland in College Park. “The study elegantly explains how the black holes switched on.”

Only Swift’s hard x-rays help scientists directly detect the energetic black hole, also called active galactic nuclei (AGN) - which can block ultraviolet, optical and low-energy, or soft X-ray, light.

Since 2004, the Burst Alert Telescope (BAT) aboard Swift has been mapping the sky using hard X-rays.

“Building up its exposure year after year, the Swift BAT Hard X-raySurvey is the largest, most sensitive and complete census of the sky at these energies,” said Neil Gehrels, Swift’s principal investigator at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

“Perhaps 60 percent of these galaxies will completely merge in the next billion years. We think we have the ’smoking gun’ for merger-triggered AGN that theorists have predicted.”

The study will appear in the June 20 issue of The Astrophysical JournalLetters. (ANI)

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