ACTIVE GALAXIES: A fast and long-lived outflow from the supermassive black hole in NGC 5548

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Supermassive black holes in the nuclei of active galaxies expel large amounts of matter through powerful winds of ionized gas. The archetypal active galaxy NGC 5548 has been studied for decades, and high-resolution x-ray and ultraviolet (UV) observations have previously shown a persistent ionized outflow. An observing campaign in 2013 with six space observatories shows the nucleus to be obscured by a long-lasting, clumpy stream of ionized gas not seen before. It blocks 90% of the soft x-ray emission and causes simultaneous deep, broad UV absorption troughs. The outflow velocities of this gas are up to five times faster than those in the persistent outflow, and, at a distance of only a few light days from the nucleus, it may likely originate from the accretion disk.

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