The University of Southampton

Spiralling gas approaching black hole mapped through 'cosmic echolocation'

Published: 23 January 2020
Caption: Scientists studied the vibrations of light triggered by material spiralling into the black hole. Credit: Dr William Alston, University of Cambridge.

An international team of scientists has studied echoes of light emitted by gas entering a black hole to better understand the cosmic phenomena.

The new research, which included Dr Matthew Middleton from the University of Southampton, observed the core of the IRAS 13224-3809 galaxy through the longest ever observation of an accreting black hole by the European Space Agency's XMM-Newton observatory.

Measuring the mass, spin and accretion rates of black holes is key to understanding gravity throughout the cosmos as well as how black holes are linked to how their host galaxies form and evolve over time.

However, the study of black holes is extremely challenging as nothing - including light - is able to enter and escape its gravitational pull. The team's method of 'cosmic echolocation' investigated the behaviour of in-spiralling material to determine its geometry.

Scientists have published their findings in the journal Nature Astronomy.

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