Hubble sees round corners to image distant black holes

 
Gravitationally lensed quasar HE 1104-1805

An international team of astronomers has used the Hubble Space Telescope to observe the accretion disc - the brightly glowing disc of matter, or quasar - around a supermassive black hole at the centre of a distant galaxy.

It's a remarkable image that has allowed scientists to measure the quasar's size with phenomenal accuracy, and even plot the temperature gradient across it. But what's really special about the picture is the way it was compiled.

The team used an amazing novel technique that takes advantage of the light bending and focusing power of gravitational lensing to see past an intervening galaxy to the even more remote quasar.

As the stars in the intervening galaxy move in front of the quasar, gravitational effects distort and amplify its light. Subtle changes in the strength and colour of that light as the galaxy transits across can then be pieced together to reveal the structure of the distant quasar.

The technique gives an immense boost to the power of the telescope - equivalent to spotting individual grains of sand on the surface of the moon.

This video shows how the team, lead by Jose Munoz at the University of Valencia, came up with the image of quasar HE 1104-1805, one of the brightest yet discovered.

 
Tom Feilden, Science correspondent, Today programme Article written by Tom Feilden Tom Feilden Science correspondent, Today

Citizen science is the new black

Tom Feilden examines citizen science - the trend for involving amateurs in research projects - and asks whether it is real science or just good PR.

Read full article

More on This Story

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites

Comments

This entry is now closed for comments

Be the first to comment

Features

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.