Outflowing gas is a common feature of the supermassive black holes that reside in the centre of large galaxies. Millions to billions of times more massive than the Sun, these black holes feed off the surrounding gas that swirls around them. Space telescopes see this as bright emissions, including X-rays, from the innermost part of the disc around the black hole.
Occasionally, the black holes eat too much and burp out an ultra-fast wind. These winds are an important characteristic to study because they could have a strong influence on regulating the growth of the host galaxy by clearing the surrounding gas away and therefore suppressing the birth of stars.
Using ESA’s XMM-Newton and NASA’s NuStar telescopes, scientists have now made the most detailed observation yet of such an outflow, coming from an active galaxy identified as IRAS 13224-3809. The winds recorded from the black hole reach 71 000 km/s – 0.24 times the speed of light – putting it in the top 5% of fastest known black hole winds.
XMM-Newton focused on the black hole for 17 days straight, revealing the extremely variable nature of the winds. … (ESA/NASA)