Black holes are objects so dense, and with so much mass, that even light cannot escape their gravity. However, astronomers can study the effects of black holes on their surroundings. These include powerful jets of electrons that travel huge distances, many thousands of light years from the centers of the galaxies.
Some of the black holes in the galaxies appear to be active, gobbling up material from their surroundings and launching jets at ultra-high speeds, while others are quiescent, even dormant.
Why are some black holes feasting and others starving?
Recent observations from the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, or SOFIA, are revealing insight into this inquiry.
According to the data provided by the SOFIA, magnetic fields are catching and limiting residue close to the center of the active galaxy, Cygnus A, and encouraging material onto the supermassive black hole at its center.
The unified model, which endeavors to clarify the distinctive properties of active galaxies, expresses that the center is encompassed by a donut-shaped dust cloud, called a torus. How this clouding structure is made and supported has never been clear, yet these new outcomes from SOFIA demonstrate that magnetic fields might be responsible for keeping the dust close enough to be eaten up by the hungry black hole. Actually, one of the principal contrasts between active galaxies like Cygnus A and their less active cousins, similar to our own Milky Way, might be the nearness or absence of a strong magnetic field around the dark opening.
Albeit celestial magnetic fields are usually difficult to watch, space experts have utilized polarized light to examine magnetic fields in worlds. However, optical wavelengths are too short and the radio wavelengths are too long to watch the torus straightforwardly. The infrared wavelengths seen by SOFIA are perfect, permitting researchers, out of the blue, to target and disengage the dusty torus.
SOFIA’s new instrument, the High-resolution Airborne Wideband Camera-plus (HAWC+), is especially sensitive to the infrared emission from aligned dust grains. This has proven to be a powerful technique to study magnetic fields and test a fundamental prediction of the unified model: the role of the dusty torus in the active-galaxy phenomena.
Enrique Lopez-Rodriguez, a scientist at the SOFIA Science Center said, “It’s always exciting to discover something completely new. These observations from HAWC+ are unique. They show us how infrared polarization can contribute to the study of galaxies.”
Ongoing perceptions of the heart of Cygnus A made with HAWC+ indicate infrared radiation overwhelmed by a well-aligned adjusted dusty structure. Consolidating these outcomes with documented information from the Herschel Space Observatory, the Hubble Space Telescope, and the Gran Telescopio Canarias, the examination group found this intense active galaxy, with its notable extensive scale jets, can limit the clouding torus that feeds the supermassive black hole utilizing a strong magnetic field.
Cygnus A is in the perfect location to learn about the role magnetic fields play in confining the dusty torus and channeling material onto the supermassive black hole because it is the closest and most powerful active galaxy.
More observations of different types of galaxies are necessary to get the full picture of how magnetic fields affect the evolution of the environment surrounding supermassive black holes. If, for example, HAWC+ reveals highly polarized infrared emission from the centers of active galaxies but not from quiescent galaxies, it would support the idea that magnetic fields regulate black hole feeding and reinforce astronomers’ confidence in the unified model of active galaxies.
SOFIA is a Boeing 747SP jetliner modified to carry a 106-inch diameter telescope. It is a joint project of NASA and the German Aerospace Center, DLR. NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley manages the SOFIA program, science and mission operations in cooperation with the Universities Space Research Association headquartered in Columbia, Maryland, and the German SOFIA Institute (DSI) at the University of Stuttgart. The aircraft is maintained and operated from NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center Hangar 703, in Palmdale, California.
The results of this study were published in the July 10th issue of The Astrophysical Journal Letters.