From San Diego, at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society
Using an orbiting satellite tuned to listen in on the X-ray screams from black holes, astronomers have obtained the most detailed view yet of the environment surrounding these cosmic abysses.
With the help of the XMM-Newton satellite, Jane Turner of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and her team tracked the motion of hot spots in the gas disk swirling around a black hole that sits at the center of the galaxy Markarian 766.
By charting periodic changes in the energy of X rays streaming from the gas disk, Turner's team discerned three hot spots in it. All are within a distance from the black hole roughly 5 times the space between Earth and the sun.
"Each of the hot spots is about the size of our sun, and they're orbiting [the black hole] at an incredible 33,000 kilometers per second," said Turner.