Washington: An astronomer has for the first time observed matter falling into a super-massive black hole - one of the universe`s brightest objects.
Anglo-Australian Observatory astronomer David Floyd has for the first time been able to probe so close to a super-massive black hole, a region inaccessible to telescopes until now.
Material in the immediate vicinity of a black hole undergoes extreme compression and superheating. The result is a quasar, which emits so much energy as visible light, that it can outshine the galaxy in which it is located by many thousands of times.
"The problem is that the regions emitting these huge amounts of light are so small and their distance from the earth so mind-bogglingly far, that it has been impossible to observe them directly, and, therefore, to understand the part they play in the evolution of the universe," David says.
"Conditions in a quasar are so extreme that they push the laws of physics to breaking point and beyond. They are the particle accelerators of the universe. They shape galaxies and drive the evolution of the universe," he adds.
The research makes use of a technique known as gravitational microlensing, where the light from a quasar passes near or through another galaxy on its way to the earth.
The intervening galaxy acts like a lens, enlarging and splitting the image of the quasar into several components, each of which can be analysed, says an Anglo-Australian Observatory release.
"It is exciting that we can study these extreme objects at all," David says.
"This technique heralds a new era in exploring black holes. And these early results are just a taste of what`s to come," he adds.
His work will be presented this week at Fresh Science - a national science talent search - at the Melbourne Museum. David is one of 16 winners from across Australia.