Matter Nears Light Speed Entering a Black Hole

Just before matter is gobbled up by a hungry black hole, it’s hurtling around the monster at nearly the speed of light. This heats up the material and it can release a tremendous amount of energy as X-rays. Different elements release energy with a specific fingerprint that astronomers can detect. Researchers from Europe have measured iron as it hurtles around black holes and found a relativistic effect because it’s moving so quickly. The team averaged out the X-ray light from 100 distant black holes to show the telltale signature of material about to be consumed by a black hole.

Astronomers Watch a Black Hole Eat a Meal

Astronomers from the Institute of Astronomy (IoA) in Cambridge, England have watched a bundle of matter at the heart of a galaxy 100 million light-years away as it orbited a supermassive black hole four times on its way to being destroyed. The material was approximately the same distance as our Earth is from the Sun, but instead of taking a year, it only took a quarter of a day, because of the massive gravity of the black hole. By tracking the matter’s doomed orbit, astronomers were then able to calculate the mass of the black hole: between 10 and 50 million solar masses.

Gravity Probe B Launch in Two Weeks

The Gravity Probe B spacecraft, which is designed to test two predictions of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, has been scheduled to launch on April 17. The spacecraft will use four precise gyroscopes to determine how space and time are distorted by the gravity of the Earth and its rotation. The spacecraft will orbit the Earth once every 90 minutes, and gather data for more than a year, comparing any drift in its gyroscopes to the position of a guide star.

New Discoveries About Gravitational Lenses

Astronomers have found several examples of galaxies which bend and focus the light from a more distant object, like a quasar. These are called gravitational lenses and they can reveal details that would just be a smudge to the most powerful telescopes. A recently discovered lensing galaxy called PMN J1632-0033 is unusual because the light from a distant quasar passes so close to the heart of the galaxy that the focused image can reveal information about the supermassive black hole in PMN J1632-0033.