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  10,000 times more supermassive black holesJun 17, 2011 6:02 AM PDT | url
Added 1 new A* page:
"A* is exactly what a hybrid of noir and space opera should look like."
-- Jon Del Arroz, Flying Sparks

You know, I tried--*tried*--to resist drawing Selenis in a black suit--all my storyboards for this episode have her in white--but earlier this week I realized that the drawings of her in her white suit that have been most successful have been the ones where I was using what I guess you could generously call tricks of lighting to make the suit effectively black, for instance in page 39 and page 44. And I'm sure this has nothing at all to do with the years I spent in my previous job, writing and role-playing a female Agent in a dark suit (among other characters) in "The Matrix Online." *cough* Anyway I think black is just her color and that's all there is to it. :P It was time for a costume change, anyway.
Getting back to the discussion of supermassive black holes in the earlier universe from yesterday, a recent analysis of Chandra readings of even older X-rays--these being X-rays emitted just 800 million years after the Big Bang--has concluded that there were many more supermassive black holes, in the X-ray-visible-form of active galactic nuclei, than had previously been thought in the early billions of years of our universe's history: at least 30 million supermassive black holes at that time, which is 10,000 times more than had been previously thought.
Here's the "Chandra Deep Field South" image that helped illustrate that impressive conclusion; it combines Chandra's X-ray view (blue) of those early galaxies with optical (green and blue) and infrared (red and green) views from Hubble:
image by NASA (source)
It's actually a bit of a confusing illustration, as the 12-billion-year-old galaxies Chandra was examining are faint reddish dots you can barely see in that image, except for the ones with active supermassive black holes giving off X-rays, which are in Chandra's bright blue. I think. They think that they weren't able to see the active nuclei at the centers of so many of those galaxies in visible or infrared light because they were obscured in gas and dust, but X-rays cut right through that stuff, so Chandra's X-ray vision could find many more of these ancient supermassive black holes than other instruments had in the past.
So yet again, more supermassive black holes than anyone had thought existed! And somehow I bet these aren't the last breakthroughs that will find significantly more supermassive black holes around the universe than we'd thought--heck, these are the easy, bright ones they're finding, anyway. What I really want to know is, how many *quiet* ones are there, just lurking out all alone in intergalactic space, each one hiding the mass of millions or billions of stars?
Remember that the largest supermassive black hole known to a reasonable degree of certitude (I think) is the one in M87, a black hole of an estimated 6.6 billion solar masses; I posted a bunch about M87 on the forum here a while back, including photos showing its famous 5000-light-year-long jet, shooting out of that super-duper-massive black hole. Here's a Chandra image of it that I didn't post before, though: it shows the hot, X-ray emitting gas in the cluster of galaxies around M87, in blue, being blown away by energetic particles (in red, detected by radio telescopes) emitting from the intense reactions around the 6.6 billion solar mass black hole at M87's center:
image by: X-ray: NASA/CXC/KIPAC/N. Werner et al Radio: NSF/NRAO/AUI/W. Cotton (source)
So giant black holes like that are pretty easy to find--hard to miss, really--but there must be plenty with no gas around them: nothing to react with, and thus emitting negligible energy--almost totally invisible! Gravitational lensing has been used to try to find quiet black holes, and even much smaller things like planets, but I don't think it's been used to search for silent intergalactic black holes on a really large scale yet.
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