Astronomers reveal contents of mysterious black hole jets

Nov 13, 2013
This is a model of the black hole system with the jets that have been found to contain atomic matter. Credit: J. Miller-Jones (ICRAR) using software created by R. Hynes.

An international team of astronomers has answered a long standing question about the enigmatic jets emitted by black holes, in research published today in prestigious journal Nature.

Jets are narrow beams of matter spat out at high speed from near a central object, like a black hole.

"Although they have been observed for decades, we're still not sure what they are made of, or what powers them," ESO astronomer Dr María Díaz Trigo, lead author of the study, said.

The team studied the radio waves and X-rays emitted by a small black hole a few times the mass of the Sun. The black hole in question was known to be active, but the team's did not show any , and the X-ray spectrum didn't reveal anything unusual.

However, a few weeks later, the team took another look and this time saw radio emissions corresponding to the sudden appearance of these jets, and even more interestingly, lines had appeared in the X-ray spectrum – the tell-tale signature of ordinary atoms – around the black hole.

"Intriguingly, we found the lines were not where they should be, but rather were shifted significantly," Dr James Miller Jones from the Curtin University node of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR), who led the radio observations, said.

The same effect occurs when a siren from a vehicle changes pitch as it moves towards or away from us, as the sound wave is shortened or lengthened by the movement.

During the first observation the X-ray emission can be fully described by emission from a standard accretion disc. Credit: Riccardo Lanfranchi

During the second observation the appearance of a jet is detected in radio emission and the X-ray spectrum requires an additional component attributed to coronal emission above the disc and three narrow emission lines indicating the presence of baryons. Credit: Riccardo Lanfranchi

"It led us to conclude the particles were being accelerated to fast speeds in the jets, one directed towards Earth, and the other one in the opposite direction," team member Dr Simone Migliari from the University of Barcelona said.

Dr Miller-Jones said this is the first strong evidence of such particles in jets from a typical small black hole.

"We've known for a long time that jets contain electrons, but haven't got an overall negative charge, so there must be something positively charged in them too," Dr Miller Jones said.

"Until now it wasn't clear whether the positive charge came from positrons, the antimatter 'opposite' of electrons, or positively charged atoms. Since our results found nickel and iron in these jets, we now know ordinary matter must be providing the positive charge."

Positively charged atoms are much heavier than the positrons astronomers thought might make up the jets, and therefore the jets can carry away far more energy from the black hole than previously confirmed.What's more, astronomers aren't sure whether the jets are powered by the spin of the rotating black hole itself, or whether they are instead launched directly from the disk of matter that surrounds the black hole.

"Our results suggest it's more likely the disk is responsible for channelling the matter into the jets, and we are planning further observations to try and confirm this," Dr Miller-Jones said. Using the X-ray data, the team also determined the jets were moving at 66% of the speed of light, or 198,000 km/s, the most accurate determination to date of the jet speed from a run-of-the-mill black hole that's a few times the mass of the Sun.

For their observations, the team used the European Space Agency's XMM-Newton satellite to observe X-ray emission from the black hole, as well as CSIRO's Australia Telescope Compact Array for the radio observations.

Explore further: 'Blockbuster' science images

More information: Nature paper: dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature12672

Journal reference: Nature search and more info website

Provided by International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research

4.6 /5 (62 votes)

Related Stories

4C+29.30: Black hole powered jets plow into galaxy

May 15, 2013

(Phys.org) —This composite image of a galaxy illustrates how the intense gravity of a supermassive black hole can be tapped to generate immense power. The image contains X-ray data from NASA's Chandra X-ray ...

ALMA probes mysteries of jets from giant black holes

Oct 16, 2013

Two international teams of astronomers have used the power of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array to focus on jets from the huge black holes at the centers of galaxies and observe how they affect ...

Black hole jets

Jan 16, 2012

(PhysOrg.com) -- Black holes are irresistible sinks for matter and energy. They are so dense that not even light can escape from their gravitational clutches. Massive black holes (equal to millions or even ...

Chandra finds fastest wind from stellar-mass black hole

Feb 21, 2012

Astronomers using NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory have clocked the fastest wind yet discovered blowing off a disk around a stellar-mass black hole. This result has important implications for understanding ...

Recommended for you

'Blockbuster' science images

Nov 21, 2014

At this point, the blockbuster movie Interstellar has created such a stir that one would almost have to be inside a black hole not to know about it. And while the science fiction thriller may have taken some ...

Estimating the magnetic field of an exoplanet

Nov 20, 2014

Scientists developed a new method which allows to estimate the magnetic field of a distant exoplanet, i.e., a planet, which is located outside the Solar system and orbits a different star. Moreover, they ...

It's filamentary: How galaxies evolve in the cosmic web

Nov 20, 2014

How do galaxies like our Milky Way form, and just how do they evolve? Are galaxies affected by their surrounding environment? An international team of researchers, led by astronomers at the University of ...

User comments : 12

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Shahidur_Rahman_Sikder
1 / 5 (21) Nov 13, 2013
Please see my website at www.universalrule.info the universe and our place in its midst, as I see it Innovation Universe & that the revolutionary concepts of the research results, shall be kept in tact preserving your image all over the world, which is my ultimate goal too.
Q-Star
4.5 / 5 (8) Nov 13, 2013
Please see my website at http://www.universalrule.info the universe and our place in its midst, as I see it Innovation Universe & that the revolutionary concepts of the research results, shall be kept in tact preserving your image all over the world, which is my ultimate goal too.


Aren't your Ali Baba Flying Carpets just a tad overpriced?
Tuxford
1.2 / 5 (18) Nov 13, 2013
Jets ejecting new matter generated from within. Not conclusive...but...Maybe so... Where does the iron and nickel come from? Perhaps it is not exclusively from the supernova origin mythology afterall.
sirupdzija
1 / 5 (18) Nov 13, 2013
no, jets are ejecting old matter sucked from outside, just accelerated and dispersed as atoms. and the cause for the jets is the magnetic field. http://phys.org/n...ack.html When do i get my Nobel? Also, first, there was disruption in space called black hole, which sucked matter to itself, rearanged it in balanced way so that nuclear fusion can start - star is born, and then when the stars function blocked its surroundings to feed black hole from which it emerged, the matter has slowly been emitted through the lifetime of a star. once the matter was depleted, the black hole showed its true face once again, and started the cycle of sucking the matter and ejecting it in those jets. once the black hole's surroundings co-creates the stable environment for forming of another gas ball (star), voila, here we go again....
cantdrive85
1 / 5 (20) Nov 13, 2013
It's no coincidence the top image has similar jets as this image;
http://www.holosc...moid.jpg
jalmy
1 / 5 (14) Nov 14, 2013
It is because of the speed at which the matter is being spun by the electromagnetic fields that it is able to resist the gravity and escape the black hole. You are witnessing anti gravity by centripetal force. The hawking radiation pushes the matter along and voila you have a jet stream of particles. Riding the eye of the hurricane as it were.
Zephir_fan
Nov 14, 2013
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
jalmy
1.7 / 5 (12) Nov 14, 2013
This is just the "argumentation" worth of proponents of mainstream science, not the true Zephir_fans. Particularly because I'm facing such an "argumentation" all the time. The fans of Zephir should argue logically, not with personal name calling.


The problem is, he lacks the hardware to construct a logical argument. Obviously.
Zephir_fan
Nov 14, 2013
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
jalmy
1 / 5 (10) Nov 14, 2013
AWT, hahahahahaha. Oh I get it now your just trolling. Man I thought you were serious, you really got me good you fucker.
Ober
3.4 / 5 (5) Nov 15, 2013
The only post worth reading was Q-Stars.
What a waste land of dribble Phys-Org comments have become.
Aaron43
1.5 / 5 (8) Nov 15, 2013
Could it be said that black holes are the automated recycling program of the universe?
Fleetfoot
5 / 5 (4) Nov 16, 2013
The only post worth reading was Q-Stars.
What a waste land of dribble Phys-Org comments have become.


Sadly, you are absolutely right, otherwise not a sane comment in the whole thread :-(
yyz
5 / 5 (1) Nov 20, 2013
A free preprint of the Nature paper "Baryons in the relativistic jets of the stellar-mass black hole candidate 4U 1630-47" is available here: http://arxiv.org/abs/1311.5080

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.