Images by Date
Images by Category
Solar System
White Dwarfs
Neutron Stars
Black Holes
Milky Way Galaxy
Normal Galaxies
Galaxy Clusters
Cosmology/Deep Field
Images by Interest
Space Scoop for Kids
Sky Map
Photo Blog
Top Rated Images
Image Handouts
Fits Files
Image Tutorials
Photo Album Tutorial
False Color
Cosmic Distance
Look-Back Time
Scale & Distance
Angular Measurement
Images & Processing
Image Use Policy
Web Shortcuts
Chandra Blog
RSS Feed
Email Newsletter
News & Noteworthy
Image Use Policy
Questions & Answers
Glossary of Terms
Download Guide
Get Adobe Reader
M81: Black Holes Have Simple Feeding Habits

This composite NASA image of the spiral galaxy M81, located about 12 million light years away, includes X-ray data from the Chandra X-ray Observatory (blue), optical data from the Hubble Space Telescope (green), infrared data from the Spitzer Space Telescope (pink) and ultraviolet data from GALEX (purple). The inset shows a close-up of the Chandra image. At the center of M81 is a supermassive black hole that is about 70 million times more massive than the Sun.

A new study using data from Chandra and ground-based telescopes, combined with detailed theoretical models, shows that the supermassive black hole in M81 feeds just like stellar mass black holes, with masses of only about ten times that of the Sun. This discovery supports the implication of Einstein's relativity theory that black holes of all sizes have similar properties, and will be useful for predicting the properties of a conjectured new class of black holes.

In addition to Chandra, three radio arrays (the Giant Meterwave Radio Telescope, the Very Large Array and the Very Long Baseline Array), two millimeter telescopes (the Plateau de Bure Interferometer and the Submillimeter Array), and Lick Observatory in the optical were used to monitor M81. These observations were made simultaneously to ensure that brightness variations because of changes in feeding rates did not confuse the results. Chandra is the only X-ray satellite able to isolate the faint X-rays of the black hole from the emission of the rest of the galaxy.

The supermassive black hole in M81 generates energy and radiation as it pulls gas in the central region of the galaxy inwards at high speed. Therefore, the model that Markoff and her colleagues used to study the black holes includes a faint disk of material spinning around the black hole. This structure would mainly produce X-rays and optical light. A region of hot gas around the black hole would be seen largely in ultraviolet and X-ray light. A large contribution to both the radio and X-ray light comes from jets generated by the black hole. Multiwavelength data is needed to disentangle these overlapping sources of light.

Fast Facts for M81:
Credit  X-ray: NASA/CXC/Wisconsin/D.Pooley & CfA/A.Zezas; Optical: NASA/ESA/CfA/A.Zezas; UV: NASA/JPL-Caltech/CfA/J.Huchra et al.; IR: NASA/JPL-Caltech/CfA
Release Date  June 18, 2008
Scale  Full field image is 3 arcmin across.
Category  Normal Galaxies & Starburst Galaxies, Black Holes
Coordinates (J2000)  RA 09h 55m 33s | Dec +69° 03´ 55"
Constellation  Ursa Major
Observation Date  05/26/05 - 07/06/05
Observation Time  46 hours
Obs. ID  5935-5949
Instrument  ACIS
References S. Markoff et al, 2008, ApJ, in press
Color Code  X-ray: Blue; Infrared: Red; Optical: Green; Ultraviolet: Purple
Distance Estimate  About 11.6 million light years
distance arrow
Visitor Comments (1)

This is so cool. I love that you make these images available to the public. Great distance estimate graphic too, really puts it in perspective. I have trouble grasping the size and this helps.
Well done

Posted by Mary Cortina on Monday, 01.26.15 @ 08:56am

Rate This Image

Rating: 3.8/5
(656 votes cast)
Download & Share


1024x768 - 573.5 kb
1280x1024 - 822.1 kb
1680x1050 - 1003.1 kb
More Information
Press Room: M81
More Images
Chandra X-ray Image
of M81
Jpg, Tif

More Images
Animation & Video
Images of M81

More Animations
More Releases
(23 Apr 14)

Related Images

(24 Apr 06)

Sombrero Galaxy
Sombrero Galaxy
(30 Apr 07)

Related Information
Related Podcast
Top Rated Images
Chandra Releases 3D Instagram Experiences

Brightest Cluster Galaxies

Timelapses: Crab Nebula and Cassiopeia A