Accretion Disk & Supermassive Black Hole

Minimum credit line: Image courtesy of NRAO/AUI and Artist: John Kagaya (Hoshi No Techou).(for details, see Image Use Policy).

About this Image

Artist's rendition of the accretion disk and radio jet around the black hole in the heart of the Seyfert galaxy NGC 4258.

NGC4258 contains one of the very few galactic nuclei for which astronomers can make images of accretion disk material that lies within a few tenths of a parsec from a supermassive black hole. The most remarkable characteristics of the disk are that it is "paper thin," warped, and rotating differentially according to Kepler's laws (i.e., the square of rotation velocity is proportional to the reciprocal of radius). In many other galaxies the characteristics of accretion disks must be inferred indirectly. In NGC4258, they may be inferred directly from images that resolve the velocity and angular structure of the disk.

In this artist's conception, the disk is color coded according to Doppler shift. The blue regions of the disk are moving toward us, while the red regions move away from us. The inset at the bottom of the graphic is a radio spectrum (intensity as a function of frequency or velocity) of the water maser emission. It is the distribution of water emission on the sky that astronomers map as they trace the outlines of the disk. The white glints on the disk surface show the locations of regions where maser emission has been detected.

The blue beam emerging from the black hole represents the relativistic jet that has also be detected by astronomers on a variety of angular scales, with instruments such as the Very Large Array and the Very Long Baseline Array. It lies right along the rotation axis of the innermost portion of the disk, just as predicted by astronomical theory. Some theories predict that the black hole will be surrounded by a small region of radio-bright, intensely hot gas. In a challenge to these suggestions, so far none has been detected as astronomers have use techniques akin to adaptive optics to make very sensitive images of the region close to the black hole, and the hunt continues.

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Technical Data

    Telescope other 
    Type of Observation Unknown 
    Center of Image RA: 12:18:57.52, Dec: 47:18:14.20 (J2000)  
    Technical Caption  

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