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Spacial Whispers

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NASA : Interpreting the ‘Song’ of a Distant Black Hole

Astronomers in England have discovered a singing black hole in a distant cluster of galaxies. In the process of listening in, the team of astronomers not only heard the lowest sound waves from an object in the Universe ever detected by humans, but they’ve also discovered an important clue about the formation of galaxy clusters – the largest structures in the cosmos.

Dr. Andrew Fabian and his colleagues at the Institute of Astronomy in Cambridge, England made their discovery using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, an orbiting X-ray telescope that sees the Universe in X-ray light just as the Hubble Space Telescope sees it in visible light.

Sound waves in the Perseus Cluster

Using the piano keyboard’s middle C note as a reference point for the middle of the piano key music range, Fabian’s team determined the note is a B -flat. On a piano, the B-flat nearest middle C is located midway between 1/8th and 2/8th of an octave away. In musical terminology, this B flat is 1-1/2 steps from middle C.

The Perseus cluster black hole’s B-flat, by contrast, is 57 octaves below middle C or one million, billion times lower than the lowest sound audible to the human ear! In terms of frequency (the time it takes a single sound wave to pass by), the lowest sounds a person can hear is 1/20th of a second. The Perseus black hole’s sound waves have a frequency of 10 million years.

More than an acoustic curiosity, these sound waves transport energy that keeps gas throughout the cluster warmer than it would otherwise be. These warmer temperatures, in turn, regulate the rate of new star formation, and hence the evolution of galaxies and galaxy clusters. This makes the findings far more significant for understanding the astrophysical evolution of the Universe.

The Perseus sound waves are much more than just an interesting form of black hole acoustics, said Steve Allen, also of the Institute of Astronomy and co-investigator in the study. These sound waves may be the key in figuring out how galaxy clusters, the largest structures in the Universe, grow.


Written by James Thomas

21/09/2010 at 20:51

Posted in 005/ Tunings

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