(Feb. 26, 2018) -- A research team has published a new study lead by Pat Roche, professor of astrophysics at The University of Oxford, and Chris Packham, associate professor of physics and astronomy at The University of Texas at San Antonio. It reveals a new high resolution map of the magnetic field lines in gas and dust swirling around the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy. The team created the map, which is the first of its kind, using the CanariCam infrared camera attached to the Gran Telescopio Canarias on the island of La Palma.
“This collaborative work is an exciting step forward in our collective efforts to gain a greater understanding of our own galaxy and the super-massive black hole at the center of it. It also demonstrates the importance of access to the largest telescopes using advanced cameras/techniques,” Packham said.
Black holes are objects with gravitational fields so strong that even light cannot escape their grasp. The center of almost every galaxy appears to host a black hole, including the Milky Way, where we live. Stars move around the black hole at speeds of up to 30 million kilometres an hour, indicating that it has a mass of at least a million times our Sun. Depending on how the material flows, some of it may eventually be captured and engulfed by the black hole.
Visible light from sources in the center of the Milky Way is blocked by clouds of gas and dust. Infrared light, as well as X-rays and radio, more freely passes through this obscuring material, so astronomers use this to see the region more clearly. CanariCam combines this with a polarising device, which preferentially filters light with the particular characteristics associated with magnetic fields.
“This work, in addition to its scientific relevance, is very important to the advancement of the Ph.D. physics and astronomy program here at UTSA, since it involves students in cutting edge research,” said Miguel Jose Yacaman, professor and Lutcher Brown Endowed Chair of the UTSA Department of Physics and Astronomy.
Centered on the supermassive black hole, the new infrared map covers a region about one light year on each side. The image shows the intensity of infrared light, and traces magnetic field lines within filaments of warm dust grains and hot gas, which appear here as thin lines reminiscent of brush strokes in a painting.
The filaments, several light years long, appear to meet close to the black hole and may indicate where orbits of streams of gas and dust converge. One prominent feature links some of the brightest stars in the center of the galaxy. Despite the strong winds flowing from these stars, the filaments remain in place, bound by the magnetic field within them. Elsewhere the magnetic field is less clearly aligned with the filaments.
The new observations give astronomers more detailed information on the relationship between the bright stars and the dusty filaments. The origin of the magnetic field in this region is not understood, but it is likely that a smaller magnetic field is stretched out as the filaments are elongated by the gravitational influence of the black hole and stars in the galactic center.
“Big telescopes like GTC, and instruments like CanariCam, deliver real results,” Roche said. “We’re now able to watch material race around a black hole 25,000 light years away, and for the first time see magnetic fields there in detail.”
UTSA is ranked among the top four universities in the nation under 50 years old, according to Times Higher Education.
Learn more about the UTSA Department of Physics and Astronomy.
Learn more about the University of Oxford Department of Physics.
Read Patrick Roche and Chris Packham’s study “The Magnetic Field in the central parsec of the Galaxy.”
All UTSA faculty, staff and students are invited to attend open forums featuring finalist candidates for the dean of the UTSA College of Sciences.Various Locations, Main Campus
Co-sponsored by UTSA, the regional conference provides a venue to bring together scholars in the fields of archaeology, ethnography, art history and the general public to share information on research focused on the cultures of the Mesoamerican region. The conference is free and open to the public.San Antonio Museum of Art, 200 W. Jones Ave., San Antonio
The UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures will welcome historian Gregory Peek of Penn State University and a panel of music scene personalities to recount the Alamo City’s place in the heavy metal landscape.UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures, Hemisfair Campus
UTSA is an early voting site for the statewide General Election.H-E-B Student Union Bexar Room (HSU 1.102), Main Campus
The UTSA Office of the President and the UTSA College of Public Policy present a discussion on San Antonio’s charter amendments. Event will be livestreamed to UTSA Main Campus, Travis Room – HSU 2.202Buena Vista Street Building Aula Canaria (BVB 1.328), Downtown Campus
More than 75 local, state and national graduate and professional schools will showcase their programs at the Main Campus. It's free and open to the public. Interested attendees are encouraged to register for the event in advance.Sombrilla Plaza, Main Campus
Hosted by the UTSA Office of Information Technology Student Innovation Coalition, Tech Talk is a forum for students to share thoughts about technology on campus with IT professionals and learn about products and services available to help them succeed.Student Union Denman Room (SU 2.01.28), Main Campus
UTSA Libraries will host Claudia García-Louis, assistant professor, at the Downtown Library for her presentation AfroLatinxs: Navigating Blackness and Latinidad in the Age of Trump, as part of the popular Pizza and Research series.Buena Vista Street Building Downtown Library (BVB 2.314), Downtown Campus