Jul
11
2008

Black holes all feed the same

Spiral galaxy M81: The black hole in the center of this galaxy is 70 million times as massive as the Sun, but it behaves exactly the same as much, much smaller black holes.
Spiral galaxy M81: The black hole in the center of this galaxy is 70 million times as massive as the Sun, but it behaves exactly the same as much, much smaller black holes.Courtesy X-ray: NASA/CXC/Wisconsin/D.Pooley & CfA/A.Zezas; Optical: NASA/ESA/CfA/A.Zezas; UV: NASA/JPL-Caltech/CfA/J.Huchra et al.; IR: NASA/JPL-Caltech/CfA

This may fall under the heading of small comfort, but a new study has shown that all black holes, big or small, suck in matter in the same way. Using NASA’s Chandra X-ray observatory, astronomers studied the different types of light (X-ray, radio and visible) emanating from the region around a massive black hole in the center of galaxy M81. They found that this light was the same as light coming from smaller black holes, even though this one is some 10 million times bigger, and is sucking in matter from a different source. This confirms a part of Einstein’s theory of relativity, which predicted that black holes would be fairly simple objects, not subject to a lot of variation. Which doesn’t really help much if you find yourself getting sucked in, but at least you know it’s nothing personal.

You can learn more about Chandra and X-ray astronomy in our Be an Astronomer! web exhibit. And you can ask questions of Megan Donahue, a scientist who work with the Chandra observatory.

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