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Fastest Winds Ever Seen Near a Supermassive Black Hole

The strong gravity of the black hole, on the left, is pulling gas away from a companion star on the right. This gas forms a disk of hot gas around the black hole, and the wind is driven off this disk. (Image:  NASA/CXC/M.Weiss)
The strong gravity of the black hole, on the left, is pulling gas away from a companion star on the right. This gas forms a disk of hot gas around the black hole, and the wind is driven off this disk. (Image: NASA/CXC/M.Weiss)

Astrophysicists from York University have discovered the fastest winds ever seen at ultraviolet wavelengths near a supermassive black hole. These are not normal winds as their colossal speeds reach in excess of 200 million kilometers an hour.

Jesse Rogerson, who led the research as part of his PhD thesis in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at York University, said in a statement:

Since the late 1960s, astronomers had been aware of the existence of quasar winds, with no less than one in four quasars having them. Quasars are the discs of hot gas that form around supermassive black holes that sit at the center of massive galaxies.

This video below from NASA illustrates how black-hole feedback works in quasars. The dense gas and dust within the center simultaneously fuels the black hole and shrouds it from view. The black-hole wind then propels large-scale outflows of cold gas that powers a shockwave that clears gas and dust from the central galaxy.

They produce enough light that they can be seen across the observable universe, are hotter than the surface of the sun, and larger than Earth’s orbit around the sun. York University Associate Professor Patrick Hall said:

To identify new outflows from quasars, the team of astrophysicists used data from a large survey of the sky, known as the Sloan Digital Sky Survey.

After finding around 300 examples, they then designated about 100 for further examination. More data was collected using the Gemini Observatory’s twin telescopes in Hawaii and Chile.

The main reason for the research is to gain a better understanding of outflows from quasars and why they happen. Rogerson explains:

The findings were published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

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