A flight to the black hole of the galaxy


As is believed to happen with most galaxies, the center of the Milky Way contains a supermassive black hole, Sgr A *. Being relatively close (at a distance of only 8.5 kpc) our galactic center is a unique laboratory to study the physical processes that also occur in the nuclei of other galaxies but are too far away for detailed study. The region around this black hole is occupied by a circular circumnuclear disc (CND) that revolves around it. The innermost regions of this disk are tremendously interesting, with the gas forming complicated structures in the form of filaments, spirals or serpentines, accounting for the dynamic processes that take place there and possibly feeding the central black hole. < p> An international team, led by Dr. Rolf Güsten of the Max-Planck Institute for Radioastronomy (Germany), in which a researcher from the Center for Astrobiology (CAB, CSIC-INTA), has carried out an in-depth study of these internal regions of the nucleus of our galaxy to try to solve the pending issues such as the physical characteristics of the neutral gas, its kinematics or the estimation of the molecular gas mass of the CND, as well as its density and temperature whose range of values ​​leaves many questions open about the nature and destiny of the CND. "Studying the center of the Milky Way in the far infrared is essential to know how gas forms and evolves around the central black hole," says Jesús Martín-Pintado, CSIC research professor at the CAB and member of the scientific team of this work.

The study has been carried out with the GREAT instrument installed in SOFIA during the flight made on the morning of July 18, New Zealand time. For the first time, SOFIA, the "Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy", is operating in the southern hemisphere. This was the first of the nine scheduled flights that, for three weeks and based on the Christchurch airport (New Zealand), make up the campaign to observe the astronomical objects that are only visible from that side of the equator.
Apart from this study on the inner regions of our galaxy, this first flight of SOFIA has included the study of the Magellanic Clouds, small satellite galaxies of the Milky Way.

About SOFIA and GREAT < / b>

SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, is the largest aerial observatory in the world to study the universe in infrared wavelengths.) It consists of a telescope optimized for the infrared of 2, 7 m in diameter in its main mirror aboard a Boeing 747SP aircraft that raises it to altitudes between 12 and 14 km.When flying above the atmospheric layer of water vapor, SOFIA is able to make observations that are impossible even for the largest ground-based telescopes SOFIA is a collaboration between NASA and the German Aerospace Center.

GREAT (German Receiver for Astronomy at Terahertz Frequencies, German receiver for astronomy at frequencies of terahertz) is a superheterodic spectrometer it does not work like a radio frequency receiver when it detects light waves instead of particles. It works in the far infrared for frequencies between 1.25 and 5 terahertz (wavelengths from 60 to 220 microns). These wavelengths are not accessible from the ground due to absorption by atmospheric water vapor. GREAT is a first generation instrument for SOFIA, developed and maintained by a consortium of German research institutes led by Rolf Güsten (Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy).

Contact: Prof. Jesús Martín-Pintado, Centro of Astrobiology (CSIC-INTA)

Scientific Culture Unit of the CAB: Luis Cuesta


Fuente: UCC-CAB

Fecha: 2013-07-18


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