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HubbleSite Hubble Uncovers Black Hole Disk that Shouldn't Exist

  • Thread starter Space Telescope Science Institute
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Space Telescope Science Institute



Astronomers are always tickled when they find something they didn't expect to be there. Peering deep into the heart of the majestic spiral galaxy NGC 3147, researchers uncovered a swirling gas disk precariously close to a black hole weighing about 250 million times the mass of our Sun. The surprise is that they thought the black hole was so malnourished, it shouldn’t have such a structure around it. It's basically a "Mini-Me" version of more powerful disks seen in very active galaxies.

What's especially intriguing is that the disk is so deeply embedded in the black hole's intense gravitational field, its light is being stretched and intensified by the black hole's powerful grasp. It's a unique, real-world demonstration of Einstein's laws of relativity, formulated a century ago.

Hubble clocked material whirling around the black hole as moving at more than 10% of the speed of light. And, the gas astronomers measured is so entrenched in the gravitational well that light is struggling to climb out, and therefore appears stretched to redder wavelengths.

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