Black holes are gusty places, releasing more energy into their host galaxies than thought, say US and Australian scientists.
This finding will help us understand how black holes evolve and affect their host galaxies.
Gas in space flows, or accretes, onto black holes. That’s how they grow.
The gas inside gets so hot it emits radiation. According to the so-called Eddington limit, however, the radiation flowing outward cannot exceed a certain limit (one based on the black hole’s mass) or it will blow the in-flowing gas away.
Whether a black hole’s energy in the form of jets and winds is constrained by the same limit has been unclear.
Roberto Soria of the Curtin Institute of Radio Astronomy in Western Australia and colleagues in the US studied the outflow of a black hole far from the centre of its host galaxy, M83, for over a year.
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By analysing the gas accreting onto the black hole, they worked out its weight: less than 100 times that of the Sun.
The researchers compared this mass of the black hole with its outgoing power, a quantity they approximated from observations of the infrared and radio brightness of its surroundings.
The power flowing out was higher than the Eddington limit for a black hole of this mass, the researchers found.
This find suggests that black holes can give off very high kinetic, or mechanical, power for a long time, putting more energy into their environment than would be expected based only on their radiative power, which is subject to the Eddington limit.
The article, “Super-Eddington Mechanical Power of an Accreting Black Hole in M83”, is published in Science magazine, a journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Image courtesy of W.P. Blair (JHU) & R. Soria (ICRAR-Curtin)
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