Saturday, October 14, 2006

NASA Performs Headcount of Local Black Holes

File this one under interesting facts to mention if you run out of things to say at a cocktail party:

NASA Performs Headcount of Local Black Holes
Nearly every massive galaxy seems to have a supermassive black hole, but only a few percent appear to be active. Our galaxy's central black hole is dormant, and this and similar black holes are not included in the Swift census. All black holes were likely once active, and why some remain active and others are dormant in the modern, local universe is a mystery.

"You can't understand the universe without understanding black holes," said Richard Mushotzky of Goddard, a census team leader. "Perhaps as much as 20 percent of all of the radiated energy in the universe---most X-rays, large fractions of ultraviolet and infrared light, and a good deal of radio waves---arise in one way or another from AGN activity." [Emphasis added.]

By the way, an "AGN", or "active galactic nucleus" is a supermassive black hole surrounded by and interacting with a large quantity of gas at the center of a large galaxy:
AGN have a mass of millions to billions of suns, which are confined within a region about the size of our solar system. The term "active" refers to the process of actively pulling in gas and whole stars and generating copious amounts of energy from a tiny galactic core in the process. Examples include quasars and Seyfert galaxies.

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