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Updated: July 8th, 2008 05:26 PM CDT

NASA's Chandra Finds Black Holes Stirring Up Galaxies

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Previous X-ray studies have shown elliptical galaxies contain multimillion degree gas whose mass is a few percent of the stars in it. Except for rare cases, violent activity in elliptical galaxies was thought to have stopped long ago. It was expected the hot gas would have settled into an equilibrium shape similar to, but rounder, than the stars. High angular resolution imaging observations by Chandra indicate otherwise.

"We found the distribution of hot gas has no correlation with the optical shape," Diehl said. "Something is definitely making a mess there, and pumping energy equivalent to a supernova every century into the gas."

Although supernovae are a possible energy source, a more probable cause was identified. The scientists detected a correlation between the shape of the hot gas clouds and the power produced at radio wavelengths by high-energy electrons. This power output can be traced back to the centers of the galaxies, where super-massive black holes are located.

Repetitive explosive activity fueled by the in-fall of gas into central black holes is known to occur in giant elliptical galaxies located in galaxy clusters. Statler and Diehl's analysis indicates the same phenomena are also occurring in isolated elliptical galaxies.

"These results are part of an emerging picture that shows the impact of super-massive black holes on their environment is far more pervasive than previously thought," Statler said.


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