Even NASA’s next-generation space observatory can’t see supermassive black holes directly, but that doesn’t mean astronomers can’t use its data to better understand the mysterious giant.
Opportunities are shown even in the first pictures in scientific quality from James Webb Space Telescope (aka JWST or Webb) revealed by NASA on July 12 supermassive black holes Properly invisible to all observatories that collect light, JWST will be able to indirectly observe the structures.
I’ve already, in fact. Consider this new image of five galaxies that seem to be trapped in a cosmic dance. “The picture we showed you of Stefan’s pentagram is beautiful, and it tells you many things in one picture,” said John Mather of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, chief scientist for the James Webb Space Telescope program. A press conference was held by the Committee for Space Research (COSPAR) on July 19 on the occasion of its annual gathering held last week in Athens.
Gallery: The first images of the James Webb Space Telescope
In that image, astronomers can see a supermassive black hole, or rather, the light emitted by matter is heating up and falling into the massive structure, which has about 24 million times the mass of the Sun, to me Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, which operates the observatory. (A black hole is also called an active galactic nucleus for its location in the heart of NGC 7319.)
The stunning image released by NASA combines shots taken by the near-infrared camera (NIRCam) and the mid-infrared instrument (MIRI). But JWST didn’t just take pictures. Both tools also collected what scientists refer to as data cubes, which include both images and Spectroscopya technique that determines how much light of a given wavelength comes from a source.
The results allowed scientists to deconstruct the cloud surrounding the supermassive black hole, and determine the amount of chemicals of interest in the place. “We’re testing the black hole environment,” Mather said of these observations. “Now we have pictures of what the hydrogen cloud, the iron cloud, the atomic hydrogen cloud, molecular hydrogen looks like, as it orbits around or is trying to fall into the black hole’s gravitational field.”
As was true of all the observations revealed this month, Stefan’s quinquennial observations came before the telescope began its scientific operations in earnest; Now, JWST has embarked on what astronomers hope will prove to be a 20-year period to conduct groundbreaking science.
JWST’s predecessor was, Hubble Space Telescopewhich has been in operation for more than 30 years and is still going strong, this oldest observatory has also contributed to scientists’ understanding of supermassive black holes.
“Hubble was the first to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that we have a black hole in the centers of galaxies, because they were able to observe the movement of stars rapidly orbiting a black hole,” Mather said.
He noted that Webb would take this a few more steps. In particular, Mather said he hopes the JWST observations will educate astronomers about the origins of active galactic nuclei, the supermassive black holes that lurk everywhere. galaxy‘result. “There is a giant black hole at the center of every galaxy, and the origin of this black hole is currently completely unknown.”
As scientists attempt to solve this mystery, they will need to know when supermassive black holes arrived on the cosmic scene. Unlike the Hubble telescope, which sees more sharply in the visible and ultraviolet wavelengths of light, the infrared-enhanced JWST may be able to reach deep enough into the history of the universe to observe a time before such structures existed.
“It’s bigger and can therefore see farther in time and farther into space, so we have more targets that we can find,” Mather said of the capabilities of the new observatory compared to those of Hubble. “We also get somewhat clearer images, and because infrared is able to penetrate through dust clouds, we can see black holes near the core.”
And for Mather, understanding supermassive black holes is not an empty hobby. He noted that the supermassive black hole at the galactic core is a dominant player in the life of everything else in the galaxy, especially because the energy released by the giant sculpts the galaxy around it. This is no less true than ours Milky Way From the distant galaxy in Stephan’s Quintet.
“The history of the solar system would have been very different if it weren’t for the black hole in our galaxy,” Mather said.