Supermassive Black Holes are Not Fussy Eaters

The core of M81 (Chandra/NASA)

By combining observations from a multitude of observatories, all looking at spiral galaxy M81, astronomers have taken a very close and intimate look at a supermassive black hole’s feeding habits. As supermassive black holes (of tens of millions of solar masses) and stellar black holes (of a few solar masses) exist in entirely different environments, astrophysicists were uncertain as to what supermassive black holes feed on. Stellar black holes eat away at the gas from companion stars, creating an accretion disk, generating a range of emissions as stellar gas falls into the disk. But where do supermassive black holes get their food? It turns out they feed off gas in the central region of galactic cores, generating similar emissions as their smaller stellar cousins. What’s more, this finding supports Einstein’s theory that all black holes, regardless of mass, share the same characteristics…
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The Case of the Supermassive Black Hole, the Infrared Object and Perceived Accuracy of Science

There is a trend in astronomical observations to label strange and exotic objects with superlative names. Take “supermassive” black holes for instance. Yes they are more massive than intermediate black holes, bigger than stellar black holes, and in a whole different league to theoretical micro-black holes. But is the label “supermassive” an accurate description? Is it even scientific?

After reading a very interesting article written by Michael Gmirkin on “Incorrect Assumptions in Astrophysics“, I began to relate his investigation into the use of terms to describe astronomical phenomena with very expressive names. Terms like “super-massive”, “ultra-luminous”, and “beyond-bright” are mentioned by Gmirkin, perhaps leading astronomers to incorrect conclusions. Whilst this may be perceived as an issue amongst scientists, what if the media or non-specialist individuals misinterpret the meaning of these grand statements? Could it lead to public misunderstanding of the science, possibly even causing worry when a scientist describes a particle accelerator collision as “recreating the conditions of the Big Bang”?
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Supermassive Black Hole Flare Lights Up Mysterious Molecular Torus

Artists impression of a light echo from the surrounding torus of a supermassive black hole (Max Planck Institute)

Theoretically, supermassive black holes that occupy the centre of galaxies (including our own) are surrounded by a vast cloud of gas. Depending on the angle you are viewing this molecular torus will obscure the supermassive black hole’s bright accretion disk. Until now, this vast doughnut of matter has never been observed, but with the help of the supermassive black hole accretion disk and a dying star, there’s a possibility that the molecular torus will not only be observed, but also mapped…
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LHC Worries are Based on Fear of the Unknown, not Science

The construction of the LHC is nearing completion, exciting or worrying? (AP)
The construction of the LHC is nearing completion, exciting or worrying? (AP)

I’ve heard some crazy talk in my time, but the fear surrounding the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN has really surprised me. On writing a story last month that a guy in Hawaii (with a scant background in physics) was trying to pass a lawsuit to put a stop to the construction of the LHC, I realised the pressures physicists at the cutting edge of science are under. Physicists the world over have defended the science behind the LHC, and although some of the products from high energy particle collisions are as yet unknown, there is an infinitesimal chance that a black hole will swallow Earth… (I actually want a black hole to be created, the scientific implications will be revolutionary.)
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Astroengine.com Roundup and Opinion

It’s been a while since I last posted as I’ve been flying from the US to the UK and have only just gotten my office up and running. That’s not to say I haven’t been writing. On the Universe Today, I’ve posted quite a few articles ranging from quite an elaborate April Fools story (but not quite as elaborate as Virgin and Google’s Virgle prank), to a black hole hiding in the middle of Omega Centauri, to rocks rolling around on Mars… here’s a round up of the most interesting…
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How do you Build a Laser with a Black Hole?

The principal behind the lasing effect between the black hole and white hole horizons.
The principal behind the lasing effect between the black hole and white hole horizons.

Lasers. Very cool and exciting toys. They have also revolutionized science and technology. Through a comparatively simple process, photons are bounced backward and forward within an optical cavity. Stimulated emission from the quantum states of the material within the cavity causes more and more photons to be generated. Eventually a threshold is reached and laser emission results, producing a collimated beam of a defined wavelength.

So where do black holes come into all this? Well, it is theorized that black hole event horizons produce radiation. Hawking radiation, although not yet proven, is probably responsible for the only emission from a black hole. It may even cause the black hole to evaporate. But what if this radiation could be used in the ultimate laser cavity? Some Scottish researchers think it might be possible… in theory…
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Artificial Cosmogenesis – Building a Virtual Universe

Could black holes be used to contain our virtual universe? Credit: unknown. Source: http://netjmc.typepad.com/globally_local/kmworld_intranets_2006/index.html

The Universe as we know it could be in big trouble. I have reported before on situations where our universe may be changing beyond the realms of “normal” physics, but the “heat death problem” could be a physical situation where the Universe will eventually expand so far that all energy will dissipate and be lost. Thermodynamics will eventually catch up with all the stars in the cosmos, ensuring they extinguish, all energy ebbing away into frozen space. Even the last of the supermassive black holes will evaporate after 10150 years. What’s left then? Well… nothing. So the question is: if a sufficiently advanced incarnation of the human race can beat the increasing entropy of the cosmos, can the future “us” continue to live beyond the heat death? Some rather philosophical ideas have come to light, including the creation of a virtual universe
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Supermassive Black Holes Can’t Swallow Dark Matter

A modelled accretion disk around a black hole. Image credit: Michael Owen, John Blondin (North Carolina State Univ.). Source: http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap050312.html

Apparently, black holes and dark matter don’t play well together. Broadly speaking, black holes can be considered to be a significant portion of the “missing mass” in the universe, but dark matter is distinguished as “non-baryonic matter”. It seems that this mysterious non-baryonic matter is being used to explain a huge number of unexplained cosmic mysteries, but in the case of supermassive black holes, dark matter plays a very small role insofar as being used as black hole food…
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The Mischievous Nature of Primordial Black Holes

A black hole dining on a star… primordial black holes on the other hand less destructive, but can cause some mayhem nonetheless. Image credit: NASA. Source: http://www.dailygalaxy.com/photos/uncategorized/2007/07/05/black_hole_3_3.jpg

Primordial black holes are strange little critters. They’re not the product of a massive star recently gone supernova and they’re not as exotic as a wormhole, tunnelling a gateway into another dimension. They are very, very old remnants of the very beginning of our Universe. Much like the foamy bubbles left over from washing the dishes, a few bubbles stubbornly hang around on the side of the sink for an hour or so after the water has long gone. Primordial black holes (or PBHs for short) are just that, the leftovers from the very energetic (and very bubbly) Big Bang 14 billion years ago…

…but they’re not done causing trouble quite yet…
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