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Mardi, 20 Septembre 2011 23:19

Black Hole Jets Gone Wild

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Black Hole Jets Gone Wild

The innermost parts of a black hole’s active jets have been revealed for the first time. The observation suggests that the energetic spouts are more dynamic than previously suspected, with enormous blasts firing off randomly over timescales as short as 11 seconds.

It is somewhat odd that black holes, which are ultra-dense balls of matter from which no light can escape, can produce energetic flares. But these jets are a byproduct of gas and dust from a companion star that the black hole is consuming. The matter falls in circles toward the black hole, like water down a drain, and forms a gigantic flat disk that accelerates particles within, causing them to discharge energy. As yet scientists have only a vague notion of how the entire process works.

Black Hole Jets Gone WildObserved by NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) spacecraft, the wildly fluctuating black hole is located 20,000 light-years away near the center of the galaxy. It is estimated to have a mass at least six times greater than the sun. Because the WISE spacecraft looks in the infrared, it was able to peer through the black hole’s turbulent disk to the base of the flaring jets. Seen here (right) is data from the spacecraft, showing fluctuations in the infrared light from the flares.

Researchers were able to determine that the jets are emitted from an area approximately 15,000 miles across, though the size of this region sometimes rapidly increased by an order of magnitude or more. They were also able to make detailed measurements of the black hole’s magnetic field, which is 30,000 times more powerful than the Earth’s. Since the magnetic field is thought to be, in part, responsible for the powerful jets, this data could help astronomers understand the inner workings of these exotic phenomenon.

Images: NASA/JPL


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