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Cosmic Holes July 26, 2012

Posted by hellerphysics48 in Astronomy, Black Holes, Quasars.
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We have gazed out into the sky for thousands of years, with each passing generation developing a deeper understanding how the universe functions.  In the last 100 years, developments in physics have lead to a greater understanding of the actual makeup of the cosmos than ever before.

Albert Einstein, the famous German-American physicist, helped to pioneer this deeper understanding.  Under the postulates of the Special Theory of Relativity, Einstein found that space and time were connected.  Through this connection, variation in space must be accompanied by a variation in time.  Under Newtonian physics, any object with mass has its own gravity, but space itself is “flat”.  Under general relativity, any object with mass will cause curvature in space and time.  This curvature is what we experience as the force of gravity.   As the mass increases, so does the curvature of space and the gravitational force. 

In the life cycles of stars, the more massive the star is, the more interesting its life will be.  Stars that have a mass over eight times the mass of our sun put on one of the most spectacular shows the universe can put on.   For stars greater than this, their end comes with a tremendous bang, in which much of the stars mass is ejected into space.  This phenomena, which can be seen from distant galaxies is referred to as a supernova.  The remnant for a star of such mass leads to high density neutron stars. For more massive neutron stars, the escape velocity becomes begins to approach levels nearing the speed of light.  For a neutron star with a mass high enough, the escape velocity will become so great that a photon will no longer be able to escape.  This stellar fragment is left with a highly dense core referred to as a singularity.  As you approach the singularity, there is a point called the event horizon.  This is the last chance for any particle or photon of light to turn back.  Should one dare to cross into this horizon, no matter your speed, there will be no journey back.

Early on into the history of general relativity, the very concept of this “black hole” was met with skepticism.  In their very nature, black holes are difficult to detect.  Due to a black hole’s possession of greater than the speed of light escape velocity, light itself finds itself helplessly ensnared in the cosmic hole’s grasp.  Thankfully direct detection of these phenomena is not the only way of detecting black holes in the universe.  Our best hope for detection of a black hole comes from the study of the effects black holes have upon other stellar phenomena. They can even lead to other death of nearby stars, flattening the star out as it is pulled towards the more massive objects gravitational well.  The result are X-rays as the doomed star is pulled into the black hole, which can be detected on Earth.

Cosmologists need not only rely of the detection of doomed stars to detect black holes.  We can look for deviations of a star from a predicted orbit of its type.  Another method is to observe stars that seem to periodically “disappear”.  In this case, its light can be seen to periodically disappear from sight of our planet, lending evidence towards the existence of a black hole.

Black holes may only come in one shape, however, there seems to be little limit to the size.  It has been postulated that at the center of our galaxy exists a super massive black hole, one which is thought to measure close to 4.5 x 106 times larger than our own star, the sun. 

Penrose–Hawking singularity theorems

To form a singularity, it was postulated by Roger Penrose and Stephen Hawking potential black holes must qualify for one of these stipulations as solutions to Einstein’s field Equations:

  1. A situation where matter is forced to be compressed to a point (a space-like singularity)
  2. A situation where certain light rays comes from a region with infinite curvature.

One great explanation by Karen Masters, an astronomer at the University of Portsmouth, of the phenomena is:
“In the full and most simple General Relativistic solution for a space-time which has a Black Hole (in a vacuum), there are two singularities. One is in what we call the ‘future-light cone’ and this is the Black Hole. The other is in the ‘past-light cone’, and is called a white hole. This solution is however completely unphysical in many ways and in a real black hole (formed from the collapse of a star for example) we cannot use the vacuum solution as there is matter present, in addition to the fact that the white hole singularity disappears.”

White holes now reside in the undetectable category that black holes were resided sixty years ago.  The history of white holes starts with the study of Quasars, which for many years were postulated much elusive “white holes”.  However, this has proven to be an ineffective description.  Quasars are themselves “powered” by gravitational forces caused by accretion disks.  The ejection of electromagnetic radiation is caused by compression of the matter from the circular motion inside the black holes.

In the mathematical theory of general relativity, there is a component which has lead scientists to the possibility of a time-inverted black hole, dubbed a white hole.  The idea behind a white hole is an “action-reaction” connection between black holes and their white hole counterparts.  For each particle that enters a black hole past the event horizon, there is corresponding emission of a particle from the white hole. From this it is postulated that each of these particles would exist in their own universe, one particle on “each side”.  It has been postulated Schwarzschild wormholes or Einstein-Rosen bridges could be theoretically formed connecting these to particles.  These would allow some object, for example a photon, to try to cross in the center at which the event horizons meet.  At this point, it could be possible to travel to the other corresponding hole.  The concept of such a bridge was approached by John A. Wheeler and Robert W. Fuller in 1962.  They found that such a path, such a wormhole would be too quickly pinched off, so much so as to not allow light from one exterior region (universe) to travel to another.


Karen Masters January 2002 http://curious.astro.cornell.edu/question.php?number=108

Hawking, Stephen & Penrose, Roger (1996). The Nature of Space and Time. Princeton: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-03791-4.

John Roach  November 2, 2005 http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2005/11/1102_051102_black_hole.html

EXTREME UNIVERSE: Early Quasar Is Brightest Object Ever Found in the Universe June 30, 2011

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Artist concept of a nearby quasar, Image Credit: Gemini Observatory/AURA by Lynette Cook

It’s not the most distant object ever seen, but a redshift of 7.1, putting it at an age of 12.9 billion years old. It is the furthest quasar ever seen.  Seen in the picture below, the center red dot, it is also quite bright, it is estimated that it’s luminosity is 60 trillion times that of the sun!

What could power such a beast? In a paper published today in the journal Nature, it is estimated that a supermassive black hole of 2 billion solar masses would be necessary to power such a monster. I’ll also add, it must be well fed with gas and dust falling into it, as an isolated black hole would not be seen.

Image of the new most distant quasar ULAS J1120+0641. The quasar is the red dot near the center of the image. The picture is a color composite made from images taken with the Liverpool Telescope and the United Kingdom Infrared Telescope. The quasar lies in the constellation Leo, a few degrees from the bright galaxy Messier 66. Image Credit: UKIRT/Liverpool Telescope

Quasars like this were common in the universe one to ten billion years ago. Much earlier than ten billion years, it’s thought the universe would not have enough time to easily form black holes big enough to be seen as quasars.   ULAS J1120+0641 was formed only 770 million years after the big bang. It is estimated that only about 100 of these bright quasars are at this distance. It’s existence is an important clue into the formation of these supermassive black holes.

Although more distant objects have been confirmed (such as a gamma-ray burst at redshift 8.2, and a galaxy at redshift 8.6), the newly discovered quasar is hundreds of times brighter than these. Among objects bright enough to be studied in detail, this is the most distant by a large margin.

Its brightness, at 60 trillion times the luminosity of the sun, mean that even at this large distance you can get a quality spectrum.

The hunt for this object was a 5 year endeavor.The European UKIRT Infrared Deep Sky Survey (UKIDSS) which uses the UK’s dedicated infrared telescope in Hawaii was designed to solve this problem. The team of astronomers hunted through millions of objects in the UKIDSS database to find those that could be the long-sought distant quasars, and eventually struck gold.

“It took us five years to find this object,” explains Bram Venemans, one of the authors of the study. “We were looking for a quasar with redshift higher than 6.5. Finding one that is this far away, at a redshift higher than 7, was an exciting surprise. By peering deep into the reionisation era, this quasar provides a unique opportunity to explore a 100-million-year window in the history of the cosmos that was previously out of reach.”

NEW PODCAST: Quasars in Galaxy Clusters! May 19, 2011

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Description: Quasars are some of the most luminous objects in the universe. Quasars are ancient galaxies that harbor massive black holes at their centers. The black holes emit huge amounts of energy across the spectrum as they consume matter. In this podcast, Dara Norman discusses her research on how quasars interact with their environment. Many quasars occur in galaxy clusters which can play a role in turning on quasars as well as their evolution.

Bio: Dr. Dara Norman is a research astronomer at the NOAO. Her research interests are in the area of Active Galactic Nuclei, including Quasars, and their cluster environments, in particular the triggering of AGN, and their influence on galactic evolution. She is also interested in how Quasars can be used to understand large-scale structure in the universe.

NEW PODCAST:What’s New With Supermassive Black Holes January 18, 2011

Posted by jcconwell in Astronomy, Black Holes, General Relativity, Podcast.
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What’s New With Supermassive Black Holes by Rob Knop
For the third year the physics department is sponsoring monthly podcasts at 365 days of astronomy

Description: Of all astronomical objects, there are few that inspire the imagination more than black holes. I’ll tell you about a couple of results that have come out recently having to do with supermassive black holes.
Rob Knop obtained a PhD in Physics from Caltech in 1997. He then worked with the Supernova Cosmology Project and was part of the discovery that the expansion of the Universe is accelerating. After six years as an assistant professor at Vanderbilt University, he worked in the computer industry for two years. He now teaches physics the new college Quest Unviersity in British Columbia. He gives regular astronomy talks in Second Life in association with the Meta-Institute of Computational Astronomy.

New Podcast: An Introduction to Active Galactic Nuclei February 21, 2010

Posted by jcconwell in Black Holes, Galaxy, Podcast.
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Active Galactic Nuclei (AGNs) are formed when enormous black holes consume material and spew out energy in jets many thousands of light-years long. This energy output, which can be up to a thousand times brighter than the galaxy itself, has a profound impact on the development of the host galaxy and its formation of new stars.

Podcaster: Olaf Davis & Renee Hlozek of the Oxford University Astrophysics Group

Bio: Olaf is a second-year PhD student in Oxford Astrophysics. His research involves computer simulations of astronomical phenomena – these include the behaviour of energetic particles around the jets of AGNs, and also the large-scale distribution of galaxies across the Universe. His blog, the Cosmic Web, is about astronomy and aimed at the layman.

Renee is in her second year, at Christ Church college Oxford, reading for a degree in Astrophysics. Her research interests include Dark Energy and decoding information contained in the Cosmic Microwave Background radiation, Baryon Acoustic Oscillations and Type-Ia Supernovae. She’s also interested in new methods of parameter estimation and forecasting. She’s passionate about outreach and public understanding of science.


New Results from AAS Press Conference on Black Holes: Including Charleston Native, Dr. Julia Comerford January 10, 2010

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An image of the galaxy COSMOS J100043.15+020637.2 taken with the Advanced Camera for Surveys on the Hubble Space Telescope. Image courtesy Dr. Julia Comerford.

The 215th AAS (American Astronomical Society) meeting was just completed in Washington DC. The wonders of new media will allow people to see some of the interesting topics. One of them I selected for todays blog is the news conference on Black Holes. There are five interesting talks seen on ustream, one of them by Dr. Julia Comerford, a researcher from UC Berkeley, who happens to have grown up here in Charleston.


For a nice article by our friends at Universe Today on Dr.  Comerford’s talks, go to the link below.


Measuring the Black Hole July 9, 2009

Posted by jcconwell in Black Holes, General Relativity, IYA 2009, Podcast.
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Today’s podcast at 365 days of Astronomy is about measuring those mysterious objects, Black Holes. Usually you think about the tidal forces of a Black Hole ripping and compressing anything falling in until it’s so hot, about 10 million K, that it emits x-rays.

credit: NASA Chandra Space telescope

credit: NASA Chandra Space telescope

In today’s pod-cast sponsored by the EIU Physics Department learn how radio telescope aid our knowledge of these dark objects. Go to:


Gravitational Waves and LISA January 11, 2009

Posted by jcconwell in Astronomy, Black Holes, General Relativity.
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The AAS meeting in Long Beach this week had many nifty displays. My favorite, since I’m biased toward  general relativity, is the LISA display. LISA stands for Laser Interferometer Space Antenna. Here I am in front of the full scale model of one of three proposed LISA satellites.

The author and a scale model of a LISA satelite

The author and a scale model of a LISA satellite

Now you may wonder why you want an orbiting gravitational wave satellite, especially since we have LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) already taking data. The answer is in the sensitivity diagram below

lisa-ligo_noise_spec1In order to make gravitational radiation you need to have an accelerated mass. The biggest masses with the largest accelerations are colliding black holes and neutron stars. Since most actual collisions are thought to be between orbiting bodies, the frequency of the radiation is related to the orbital frequency = orbits/second.

Now black holes seem to come in two classes. First, stellar mass black holes, created in massive core collapse supernovae. These black holes are around 10 solar masses and have a radius of 30 kilometers (18 miles). The greatest amount of radiation comes just as the two black holes are touching, or merging. The orbital velocities are about the speed of light. and the time to complete one orbit is

(orbital circumference) / velocity = .0006 second

or a frequency of 1600 orbits/second. This about the peak frequency for the radiation from this type of collision. In the diagram above, this frequency band is where LIGO was designed to be the most sensitive.

But there is a second class of black holes, the supermassive holes. These giants are from a million to several billion times the mass of the sun. They seem to form the core in most galaxies, and so when galaxies collide and merge, two orbiting monster black holes will release copious amount of energy. The good news is you can detect this from much further away than the merger of the smaller black holes. The bad news is the frequency.

A two million solar mass hole has a radius of 60 million kilometer and a circumference of about 380 million kilometers. In this case the period for the holes to orbit around each other is much longer

(orbital circumference) / velocity = 126 seconds

or a frequency of .008 orbits/second. A very low frequency, too low to detect on Earth, due earthquakes and seismic activities. This is where the frequency band where  LISA comes in and why you need it in space rather than on Earth.

Extreme Universe: Smallest Black Hole January 10, 2009

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Not all records in astronomy are about the big stuff.  Good information comes in small packages. A classic case is XTE J1650-500, the smallest or lightest Black Hole measured.

Discovered in 2008 the lowest-mass known black hole belongs to a binary system.. The black hole has about 3.8 times the mass of our sun, and is orbited by a companion star, as depicted in this illustration.


Credit: NASA/CXC/A. Hobar

Using a new technique, two NASA scientists have identified the lightest known black hole. With a mass only about 3.8 times greater than our Sun and a radius of  11 kilometers, the black hole lies very close to the minimum size predicted for black holes, or the maximum mass neutron star that originate from dying stars.

The search for the smallest black holes is  important because of the information they tell us about neutron stars, which have a critical upper mass thought to no larger than 3 time the mass of the sun. This upper mass, very similar to the upper mass of white dwarf , which is about 1.4 Solar Masses called Chandrasekhar’s limit, is harder to calculate for the case of a neutron star.

Neutron stars have three extra complications, their rapid spin, the necessity of using general relativity to describe the gravitation, and most important, the nuclear forces at densities the exceed that of normal nuclei. Depending on the nature of the force you can get equations that relate the pressure and densities that very by a factor of 2 or more. resulting in different maximum mass neutron stars that depend on the nuclear force.

Thus the smallest black holes put constraints on the possible type of matter that make up neutron stars.

Inspirally Black Holes & Charleston January 6, 2009

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On Monday one of the more interesting talks was the study of binary Black Holes using DEEP2 data. The second interesting part it was given by a Charleston native Julia Comerford, soon to be Dr. Julia Comerford, from UC Berkeley.

DEEP2 uses the DEIMOS spectroscopic data taken with the Keck telescopes on ~1000 galaxies to get rotation curves on galaxies with redshifts z> .7. Some of these galaxies show evidence of two cores or two supermassive holes due to mergers of galaxies over time. The purpose of the survey is to study the evolution of galaxies and their merger over time.

Julie Comerford

Julia Comerford