According to a recent report by NASA, surrounding at least one of this universe’s super massive black holes is a “cosmic clumpy doughnut.”
Cue Homer Simpson salivating.
The “clumpy doughnut” (astronomical terms are so highfalutin’) was observed around a supermassive black hole in the center of a spiral galaxy 47 million lightyears away known as NGC 1068, or Messier 77, by NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR), as well as the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton space observatory. (Images in the gallery below.)
This is a breakthrough because, until recently, astronomers weren’t able to get a good sense of the structure and behavior of one of these clumpy doughnuts; Regular telescopes couldn’t penetrate through “walls or screens of material that could not be seen through.” But with NuSTAR’s X-Ray vision, folks at NASA were able to penetrate the doughnut—allowing for a better picture of its structure—as well as the supermassive black hole in its center.
And the biggest surprise, according to Andrea Marinucci, lead author of the study, is that “the rotating material is not a simple, rounded doughnut as originally thought, but clumpy.”
This clumpiness is an important feature of the doughnut-shaped cloud because it raises questions as to the dynamics between black holes and the matter that they “eat.” According to NASA’s report, the clumpy structure could be caused when “a black hole generates turbulence as it chomps on nearby material. Or, [by] the energy given off by young stars… which would then percolate outward through the doughnut.”
In other words, are the clumps caused by the supermassive black hole’s appetite, or by effects from surrounding cosmic events, such as stars “turning on”? NASA’s report says that “this is a subject of hot research,” which is good news because cosmic doughnuts always taste better fresh out of the galactic oven.
What do you think about this “cosmic clumpy doughnut”? And are you impressed with NuSTAR’s ability to use X-Ray vision to reveal mysteries of the universe that aren’t available to our good ol’ human oculi, or Superman did it better? Let us know in the comments section below!