Scientists discover giant ‘clouds’ blocking X-rays in a distant galaxy

A 3D animated diagram of the wondrous eclipse absorber, composed of multiphase and clumpy clouds. Photo credit: KANG et al.

Did you know that there is a massive black hole at the center of large galaxies?

These aren’t just any black holes; they are “supermassive”.

Some of these supermassive black holes are very active, consuming a lot of material around them. They emit strong X-rays.

A team of scientists led by Prof. Wang Junxian and Ph.D. University of Science and Technology China student Kang Jialai found that something amazing is happening in one such galaxy called NGC 6814.

Imagine you are trying to look into a lightbulb, but someone is handing a thick book in front of it. The light is fading, isn’t it? The same thing happens with these active black holes.

Sometimes something like a cloud moves in front of the X-rays they emit, causing what scientists call an “X-ray eclipse.”

These X-ray eclipses are extremely rare and really difficult to study because these black holes are already flickering and constantly changing.

But an X-ray eclipse is like a golden ticket for scientists. It gives them a rare chance to learn about things about the black hole that we don’t normally get to see.

So what did scientists find in NGC 6814? Using a special telescope called the XMM-Newton, they observed an X-ray eclipse caused by what they called a “lumpy, multiphase cloud cluster.” Think of it as a cluster of thick, irregular clouds blocking the light.

These clouds are likely part of a “wind” blowing out of the inner part of the matter disk and spiraling into the black hole. They found that these clouds move very quickly, at speeds of up to around 10,000 km/s (that’s kilometers per second)!

Prior to this study, we were unaware that these types of clouds existed in such locations because they are typically invisible to the ordinary view of data scientists. The team even suspects that smaller pieces of what looks like “comet dust” could break off from these large clouds.

Do you also remember the X-ray light that we talked about? The area around the black hole where this light comes from is called the “corona”. In this case, they found that the corona is really tiny, much smaller than the cloud clusters blocking it.

Why is this all so exciting? Well, this study teaches us something about the mysterious environment of supermassive black holes. In addition, the methods used by the researchers could help us study other rare X-ray eclipses in the future.

Her Results were published in a major scientific journal and really got people excited in the astronomy world.

So the next time you look up at the night sky, remember: there’s a lot more going on out there than meets the eye!

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Source: University of Science and Technology of China.

Laura Coffey

Laura Coffey is a Worldtimetodays U.S. News Reporter based in Canada. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Laura Coffey joined Worldtimetodays in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing:

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