July 3, 2020

Filmed a growing black hole – La Provincia

An international team of astronomers, led by the Southampton University and with the participation of Canary Astrophysics Institute, has used the Hipercam instruments of Gran Telescopio Canarias, at Roque de los Muchachos Observatory, and NASA's NICER space observatory to create a high-speed film of a growing black hole system.

In the process they have discovered violent flares of visible light and of X-rays They provide new clues to understand the immediate environment of these enigmatic objects. The results of the study are published in the prestigious Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society (MNRAS).

The black holes They can feed on a nearby star and create vast discs of accumulation of gas and dust. The effect of the strong gravity of the black hole and the magnetic field of the material itself can cause the system as a whole to emit rapidly changing radiation levels. This radiation is what has been detected in the visible by the HiPERCAM instrument of the Gran Telescopio Canarias (GTC) and in X-rays by the NASA NICER observatory aboard the International Space Station.

The black hole system studied is called MAXI J1820 + 070 and was first discovered in early 2018. It is only 10,000 light years away, in our own galaxy. It has a mass equivalent to 7 soles, but compressed in a region of space smaller than the city of London. Investigating these systems is usually very difficult since they are too small and too weak to be seen. However, the HiPERCAM and NICER instruments allow researchers to create films, at more than three hundred frames per second, of the changing light of the system, capturing violent glare of visible light and X-rays simultaneously.

For the film that has just been presented, real data was used, but it was reduced to one tenth of the real speed to allow the fastest glare to be detected by the human eye, since some of them last only a few milliseconds and the Material around the black hole is so bright that it outshines the star it is consuming. The researchers found that decreases in X-ray levels are accompanied by an increase in visible light and vice versa.

They have also been able to see how the fastest flashes in visible light arise a fraction of a second after X-rays, something that had already been seen in two systems that contain black holes, but never with a level of detail like now.
According to John Paice, a graduate student at the University of Southampton and lead author of the study, "the fact that we have now seen it in three systems reinforces the idea that it is a common feature of these growing black holes. Yes it is true, he may be telling us something fundamental about how matter flows around these enigmatic cosmic objects. "

Understanding the physics and nature of these matter flows around black holes is a hot topic of astrophysical research. Tariq Shahbaz, an IAC researcher who has participated in the study, considers that "the data obtained with HiPERCAM are incredible since the observations suggest that we could be seeing signs of stratification within the regions near the base of the jet."

For his part, Romano Corradi, director of the GTC, highlights how the new instrumentation is helping to better understand these phenomena: "These results are a clear example of how the combination of the large collecting area of ​​the GTC and the unique capabilities of the HiPERCAM instrument to obtain images at high speed and in several colors simultaneously, they are opening new areas of study of the rapidly evolving phenomena in the Universe. "

The research has received financial support from the Science and Technology Facilities Council (United Kingdom), the University of Southampton, the UK-India Education and Research Initiative Thematic Partnerships, the University Scholarship Commission (India), the National Hautes Energies Program ( France), the Agence Nationale de la Recherche (France), the Ministry of Economy and Business (Spain), the Academy of Finland and the European Research Council.
"More information at ww.iac.es/prensa".

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