Spaceflight Now Home



Spaceflight Now +



Premium video content for our Spaceflight Now Plus subscribers.

Shuttle's new inspector
The Orbiter Boom Sensor System is loaded into space shuttle Discovery's payload bay. The arm will be used to inspect the shuttle for damage following the return-to-flight launch. (4min 18sec file)
 Play video

Spacewalk highlights
The Expedition 10 conducts a successful spacewalk outside the International Space Station to mount a German robotic arm and Russian science package to the Zvezda service module's exterior. (5min 07sec file)
 Play video

Huygens science update
One week after the Huygens probe landed on Saturn's moon Titan, scientists hold a news conference to announce additional results and describe more pictures from the mission. (69min 02sec file)

 Play video:
   Dial-up | Broadband

ISS spacewalk preview
The upcoming spacewalk by the International Space Station's Expedition 10 crew is previewed by NASA officials at the Johnson Space Center on Jan. 21. (25min 04sec file)

 Play video:
   Dial-up | Broadband

Launch of Deep Impact!
A Boeing Delta 2 rocket blasts off from Cape Canaveral carrying NASA's comet-smashing probe called Deep Impact. This extended clip follows the mission through second stage ignition and jettison of the rocket's nose cone. (5min 37sec file)
 Play video

Press Site view
A camera located at Cape Canaveral's Press Site 1 location offers this view of the Delta rocket's ascent. (1min 24sec file)
 Play video

Cocoa Beach
A Boeing Delta 2 rocket blasts off from Cape Canaveral carrying NASA's comet-smashing probe called Deep Impact. This extended clip follows the mission through second stage ignition and jettison of the rocket's nose cone. (5min 37sec file)
 Play video

Playalinda Beach
A Boeing Delta 2 rocket blasts off from Cape Canaveral carrying NASA's comet-smashing probe called Deep Impact. This extended clip follows the mission through second stage ignition and jettison of the rocket's nose cone. (5min 37sec file)
 Play video

Tower rollback
The mobile service tower is rolled back from the Boeing Delta 2 rocket, exposing the vehicle at launch pad 17B just before daybreak. (3min 21sec file)
 Play video

Rocket preps
Assembly of the Boeing Delta 2 rocket at launch pad 17B and mating of the Deep Impact spacecraft is presented in this video package with expert narration. (6min 12sec file)
 Play video

Spacecraft campaign
The pre-launch campaign of Deep Impact at Cape Canaveral is presented in this video package with expert narration by a spacecraft team member. (5min 32sec file)
 Play video

Become a subscriber
More video



NewsAlert



Sign up for our NewsAlert service and have the latest news in astronomy and space e-mailed direct to your desktop.

Enter your e-mail address:

Privacy note: your e-mail address will not be used for any other purpose.



Milky Way's super-massive black hole was active
EUROPEAN SPACE AGENCY NEWS RELEASE
Posted: January 26, 2005

The centre of our galaxy has been known for years to host a black hole, a 'super-massive' yet very quiet one. New observations with Integral, the European Space Agency's gamma-ray observatory, have now revealed that 350 years ago the black hole was much more active, releasing a million times more energy than at present. Scientists expect that it will become active again in the future.


This false colour picture shows the region near the centre of the Milky Way as seen by Integral in gamma rays. The position of the super-massive black hole Sgr A* and of the molecular cloud Sgr B2 are indicated. The projected distance between Sgr A* and Sgr B2 is approximately 350 light years. Only now is Sgr B2 being exposed to the gamma rays emitted by Sgr A* 350 years ago, during one of its 'high' states. This powerful radiation is absorbed and then re-emitted by the molecular hydrogen gas in Sgr B2, which becomes fluorescent in the gamma rays. The other bright objects on the right-hand side of the picture are known gamma ray emitters. Credits: ESA, M. Revnivtsev (IKI/MPA)
 
Most galaxies harbour a super-massive black hole in their centre, weighing a million or even a thousand million times more than our Sun.

Our galaxy too, the Milky Way, hosts a super-massive black hole at its centre. Astronomers call it Sgr A* (pronounced 'Sagittarius A star') from its position in the southern constellation Sagittarius, 'the archer'.

In spite of its enormous mass of more than a million suns, Sgr A* appears today as a quiet and harmless black hole. However, a new investigation with ESA's gamma-ray observatory Integral has revealed that in the past Sgr A* has been much more active. Data clearly show that it interacted violently with its surroundings, releasing almost a million times as much energy than it does today. vThis result has been obtained by a international team of scientists led by Dr Mikhail Revnivtsev (Space Research Institute, Moscow, Russia, and Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics, Garching, Germany). As Revnivtsev explains, "About 350 years ago, the region around Sgr A* was literally swamped in a tide of gamma rays."

This gamma-ray radiation is a direct consequence of Sgr A*'s past activity, in which gas and matter trapped by the hole's gravity are crushed and heated until they radiate X-rays and gamma rays, just before disappearing below the 'event horizon' - the point of no return from which even light cannot escape.

The team were able to unveil the history of Sgr A* thanks to a cloud of molecular hydrogen gas, called Sgr B2 and located about 350 light-years away from it, which acts as a living record of the hectic black hole's past.

Because of its distance from the black hole, Sgr B2 is only now being exposed to the gamma rays emitted by Sgr A* 350 years ago, during one of its 'high' states. This powerful radiation is absorbed and then re-emitted by the gas in Sgr B2, but this process leaves behind an unmistakable signature.

"We are now seeing an echo from a sort of natural mirror near the galactic centre - the giant cloud Sgr B2 simply reflects gamma rays emitted by Sgr A* in the past," says Revnivtsev. The flash was so powerful that the cloud became fluorescent in the X-rays and was even seen with X-ray telescopes before Integral. However, by showing how high-energy radiation is reflected and reprocessed by the cloud, Integral allowed scientists to reconstruct for the first time the hectic past of Sgr A*.

The high state or 'activity' of black holes is closely linked to the way in which they grow in size. Super-massive black holes are not born so big but, thanks to their tremendous gravitational pull, they grow over time by sucking up the gas and matter around them. When the matter is finally swallowed, a burst of X-rays and gamma rays results. The more voracious a black hole, the stronger the radiation that erupts from it.

The new Integral discovery solves the mystery of the emission from super-massive but weak black holes, such as Sgr A*. Scientists already suspected that such weak black holes should be numerous in the Universe, but they were unable to tell how much energy and of which type they emit. "Just a few years ago we could only imagine a result like this," Revnivtsev says. "But thanks to Integral, we now know it!"

As for the duration of the latest high state of Sgr A*, 350 years ago, Revnivtsev and his team have evidence that it must have lasted at least ten years and probably much longer. The team also expect that Sgr A* will become bright again in the foreseeable future. Detecting the next burst would provide much needed information about the duty cycle of super-massive black holes.

The International Gamma Ray Astrophysics Laboratory (Integral) is the first space observatory that can simultaneously observe celestial objects in gamma rays, X-rays and visible light. Integral was launched on a Russian Proton rocket on 17 October 2002 into a highly elliptical orbit around Earth. Its principal targets include regions of the galaxy where chemical elements are being produced and compact objects, such as black holes.

Ares 1-X Patch
The official embroidered patch for the Ares 1-X rocket test flight, is available for purchase.
 U.S. STORE
 WORLDWIDE STORE

Apollo Collage
This beautiful one piece set features the Apollo program emblem surrounded by the individual mission logos.
 U.S. STORE

Expedition 21
The official embroidered patch for the International Space Station Expedition 21 crew is now available from our stores.
 U.S. STORE
 WORLDWIDE STORE

Hubble Patch
The official embroidered patch for mission STS-125, the space shuttle's last planned service call to the Hubble Space Telescope, is available for purchase.
 U.S. STORE
 WORLDWIDE STORE

INDEX | PLUS | NEWS ARCHIVE | LAUNCH SCHEDULE
ASTRONOMY NOW | STORE

ADVERTISE

© 2014 Spaceflight Now Inc.