XMM Spectrum of MCG 6-30-15
Credit: Jörn Wilms (Tübingen) et al.; ESA

Climbing out of a Black Hole?

Black holes are usually thought of as objects from which nothing can ever escape. But in peculiar circumstances, energy may actually flow out of a black hole, or at least that's the prediction of some astrophysicists. Now astronomers using the XMM-Newton X-ray observatory may have directly observed evidence of such energy outflow. These scientists used XMM-Newton's cameras to obtain a spectrum, or chemical fingerprint, of a supermassive black hole at the center of an active galaxy called MCG-6-30-15. They found that some iron atoms were behaving in a weird way - while some of the iron atoms were apparently far from the black hole and being inexorably drawn into the black hole, there was a signature in the spectrum which apparently comes from iron emission being powered by energy coming out of the black hole. The image on the right is a schematized drawing of the XMM-Newton observation. The blue spike in the right corner is the signature of the distant iron atoms, while the broad yellow bump is interpreted as coming from the iron emission excited by the energy outflow from the black hole. The image on the left above is an artist's representation of the supermassive black hole in MCG 6-30-15 based on these new observations. If this interpretation is correct, one explanation is that the black hole magnetized and spinning, and the nearby material (outside the black hole) tries to slow the black hole's spin forcing the black hole to lose energy.

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Page Author: Dr. Michael F. Corcoran
Last modified October 28, 2001