Japan’s ‘Black Hole Satellite’, Hitomi, Sent Back an Image of a New Galaxy Before It Died


It was sent 360 miles from the Earth in February to peer across space to search for some of the most powerful objects in the universe – black holes and supernova.

Within just one month of being launched, however, Japan’s Hitomi X-ray telescope vanished after ground crews lost contact with it and it was feared to have broken apart.

But before its demise, the satellite was able to send back data to Earth that revealed a surprisingly calm gas cloud in a cluster of galaxies in the Perseus constellation.

The data beamed back by Hitomi indicates that the swirls of hot gas between the Perseus galaxies is not as turbulent as might be expected.

The researchers said the superheated gas – or plasma – is actually moving at speeds of just 366,858 miles per hour (164km/s) – fast but relatively slow compared to what they had expected.

Their findings suggest the gas between galaxies in these dense clusters is not stirred up as much as had originally been thought and could have implications for understanding how new galaxies in these regions form.

It also provides new insights into the tug-of-war that takes place between the supermassive black holes lurking at the centre of galaxies and the role they play in galaxy formation.

According to researchers, the data sent back by Hitomi suggests the intergalactic gas in clusters of galaxies may actually be debris blasted out by supermassive black holes as they regulate how galaxies grow.

Hitomi managed to obtain just three days worth of observations and scientists say this constitutes the bulk of the usable data from the spacecraft.

Professor Andrew Fabian, an astrophysicist at the University of Cambridge who was another of those involved in the consortium that studied the data, told MailOnline: ‘The intracluster medium is composed of gas, in composition much like the Sun but very, very much more dilute.

‘The gas is mostly hydrogen and helium with traces of other elements such as iron, which is highly ionized and gives the emission lines we have analysed.

‘Most of the gas in the universe lies between galaxies and not in the stars and galaxies.

‘The galaxies in the Perseus cluster orbit at typical speeds of 1,200 km/s (2.7 million mph) and there’s a massive black hole pumping out powerful jets into the gas at the centre of the cluster so our measurement of just 164 +/- 10 km/s is relatively quiet.’

Scientists had previously thought that supermassive black holes at the centre of galaxies may churn up the gas surrounding their galaxies to create bubbles of hot plasma.

These bubbles were thought to churn up the gas surrounding galaxy clusters, preventing it from cooling down enough to condense and form new stars and galaxies.

But the data from Hitomi shows that for the Persius galaxy cluster at least, this does not appear to be the case.

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SOURCE: Daily Mail, Richard Gray