In the course of looking for possible signs of Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (ETI), scientists have had to do some really outside-of-the-box thinking. Since it is a foregone conclusion that many ETIs would be older and more technologically advanced than humanity, those engaged in the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) have to consider what a more advanced species would be doing.
Active galaxies are some of the most luminous and impressive objects in the sky. They tend to be massive, distant and emit extraordinary amounts of energy as material falls into the supermassive black hole that lurks at their centre. Astronomers have recently discovered that some of them are also hidden from plain view by huge amounts of gas and smoke-like dust. But it is unclear how these rare objects form and feed.
ESO’s exquisitely sensitive GRAVITY instrument has added further evidence to the long-standing assumption that a supermassive black hole lurks in the centre of the Milky Way. New observations show clumps of gas swirling around at about 30% of the speed of light on a circular orbit just outside its event horizon — the first time material has been observed orbiting close to the point of no return, and the most detailed observations yet of material orbiting this close to a black hole.
Parallel jets provide astronomers with some of the most powerful evidence that a supermassive black hole lurks in the heart of most galaxies. Some of these black holes appear to be active, gobbling up material from their surroundings and launching jets at ultra-high speeds, while others are quiescent, even dormant.
In February of 2016, scientists working for the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) made history when they announced the first-ever detection of gravitational waves. Since that time, multiple detections have taken place and scientific collaborations between observatories – like Advanced LIGO and Advanced Virgo – are allowing for unprecedented levels of sensitivity and data sharing.
A new model is bringing scientists a step closer to understanding the kinds of light signals produced when two supermassive black holes, which are millions to billions of times the mass of the Sun, spiral toward a collision. For the first time, a new computer simulation that fully incorporates the physical effects of Einstein’s general theory of relativity shows that gas in such systems will glow predominantly in ultraviolet and X-ray light.
For the first time ever, scientists using NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope have found the source of a high-energy neutrino from outside our galaxy. This neutrino traveled 3.7 billion years at almost the speed of light before being detected on Earth. This is farther than any other neutrino whose origin scientists can identify.
Astronomers first noticed an enigmatic object, dubbed “Sagittarius A*”, at the very heart of our Milky Way galaxy in the 1960s – the earliest days of radio and infrared astronomy. But just how extraordinary this source was only became clear three decades later, when it was identified as a supermassive black hole with the mass of whopping four million suns.
Astronomers using ESO’s MUSE instrument on the Very Large Telescope in Chile have discovered a star in the cluster NGC 3201 that is behaving very strangely. It appears to be orbiting an invisible black hole with about four times the mass of the Sun — the first such inactive stellar-mass black hole found in a globular cluster and the first found by directly detecting its gravitational pull. This important discovery impacts on our understanding of the formation of these star clusters, black holes, and the origins of gravitational wave events.
Black holes are famous for being ravenous eaters, but they do not eat everything that falls toward them. A small portion of material gets shot back out in powerful jets of hot gas, called plasma, that can wreak havoc on their surroundings. Along the way, this plasma somehow gets energized enough to strongly radiate light, forming two bright columns along the black hole’s axis of rotation. Scientists have long debated where and how this happens in the jet.
At the center of our galaxy, roughly 26,000 light years from Earth, lies the Supermassive Black Hole (SMBH) known as Sagittarius A*. Measuring 44 million km across, this object is roughly 4 million times as massive as our Sun and exerts a tremendous gravitational pull. Since astronomers cannot detect black holes directly, its existence has been determined largely from the effect it has on the small group of stars orbiting it.
The beautiful spiral galaxy visible in the center of the image is known as RX J1140.1+0307, a galaxy in the Virgo constellation imaged by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, and it presents an interesting puzzle. At first glance, this galaxy appears to be a normal spiral galaxy, much like the Milky Way, but first appearances can be deceptive!
New research by astrophysicists has revealed the fastest ultraviolet winds ever detected near a supermassive black hole more than 10 billion light-years away. “We’re talking wind speeds of 20 percent the speed of light, which is more than 200 million kilometers an hour. That’s equivalent to a category 77 hurricane,” says Jesse Rogerson, a Ph.D. student at York University in Canada. “And we have reason to believe that there are quasar winds that are even faster.”