Black holes' magnetism surprisingly wimpy

December 7, 2017 by Stephenie Livingston
An illustration of a black hole. Credit: Michael McAleer/UF News

Black holes are famous for their muscle: an intense gravitational pull known to gobble up entire stars and launch streams of matter into space at almost the speed of light.

It turns out the reality may not live up to the hype.

In a paper published today in the journal Science, University of Florida scientists have discovered these tears in the fabric of the universe have significantly weaker magnetic fields than previously thought.

A 40-mile-wide black hole 8,000 light years from Earth named V404 Cygni yielded the first precise measurements of the that surrounds the deepest wells of gravity in the universe. Study authors found the magnetic energy around the black hole is about 400 times lower than previous crude estimates.

The measurements bring scientists closer to understanding how black holes' magnetism works, deepening our knowledge of how matter behaves under the most extreme conditions—knowledge that could broaden the limits of nuclear fusion power and GPS systems.

The measurements also will help scientists solve the half-century-old mystery of how "jets" of particles traveling at nearly the speed of light shoot out of black holes' magnetic fields, while everything else is sucked into their abysses, said study co-author Stephen Eikenberry, a professor of astronomy in UF's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

"The question is, how do you do that?" Eikenberry said. "Our surprisingly low measurements will force new constraints on theoretical models that previously focused on accelerating and directing the jet flows. We weren't expecting this, so it changes much of what we thought we knew."

Study authors developed the measurements from data collected in 2015 during a black hole's rare outburst of jets. The event was observed through the lens mirror of the 34-foot Gran Telescopio Canarias, the world's largest telescope, co-owned by UF and located in Spain's Canary Islands, with the help of its UF-built infrared camera named CIRCE (Canarias InfraRed Camera Experiment).

Smaller jet-producing , like the one observed for the study, are the rock stars of galaxies. Their outbursts occur suddenly and are short-lived, said study lead author Yigit Dalilar and co-author Alan Garner, doctoral students in UF's astronomy department. The 2015 outbursts of V404 Cygni lasted only a couple of weeks. The previous time the same black hole had a similar episode was in 1989.

"To observe it was something that happens once or twice in one's career," Dalilar said. "This discovery puts us one step closer to understanding how the universe works."

Explore further: Scientists penetrate mystery of raging black hole beams

More information: Y. Dallilar el al., "A precise measurement of the magnetic field in the corona of the black hole binary V404 Cygni," Science (2017). … 1126/science.aan0249

Related Stories

Researchers propose how the universe became filled with light

August 30, 2017

Soon after the Big Bang, the universe went completely dark. The intense, seminal event that created the cosmos churned up so much hot, thick gas that light was completely trapped. Much later—perhaps as many as one billion ...

Robin Hood black holes steal from nebulae to make new stars

September 5, 2017

It's easy to picture a black hole as a kind of all-powerful cosmic drain, a sinkhole of super-strong gravity that snags and swallows passing nebulae or stars. While it is true we can't observe matter once it crosses a black ...

Astronomers see black hole raging red

March 17, 2016

Violent red flashes, lasting just fractions of a second, have been observed during one of the brightest black hole outbursts in recent years.

Recommended for you

Major space mystery solved using data from student satellite

December 13, 2017

A 60-year-old mystery regarding the source of some energetic and potentially damaging particles in Earth's radiation belts is now solved using data from a shoebox-sized satellite built and operated by University of Colorado ...

Bright areas on Ceres suggest geologic activity

December 13, 2017

If you could fly aboard NASA's Dawn spacecraft, the surface of dwarf planet Ceres would generally look quite dark, but with notable exceptions. These exceptions are the hundreds of bright areas that stand out in images Dawn ...

Spanning disciplines in the search for life beyond Earth

December 13, 2017

The search for life beyond Earth is riding a surge of creativity and innovation. Following a gold rush of exoplanet discovery over the past two decades, it is time to tackle the next step: determining which of the known exoplanets ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1.7 / 5 (12) Dec 07, 2017
The magnetic fields of these non-existent entities will also be non-existent. The measured magnetic field is obviously not non-existent however.
1.6 / 5 (13) Dec 07, 2017
Article: "We weren't expecting this, so it changes much of what we thought we knew."

The picture which is emerging is of the black hole as non-falsifiable. It really does not seem to matter how many null results accumulate; since theorists need them to be there, they will continue to insist that they ARE there.
5 / 5 (3) Dec 07, 2017
This finding doesn't come as so big surprise. Even black hole at the center of Milky Way exhibits remarkably unobtrusive behavior despite its estimated mass. Recently it even ignored cloud of interstellar gas which passed directly trough it. The main source of its disturbance would be just the magnetic field, which is somehow missing there.
1.4 / 5 (9) Dec 07, 2017
Don Scott from Thunderbolts of the Gods at

"The black hole, as Wheeler originally visualized it, sucked everything -- including light -- in. And so, therefore, it was invisible. So, he could postulate its existence, and we couldn't see it. And because we couldn't see it, we couldn't prove that it wasn't there. Later on, in order to explain these fantastic emissions of energy from galaxies, it was proposed -- and I believe it was Stephen Hawking who did it -- that there were various types of black holes, some of which actually then spat matter back out again in jets -- because why? Because we had observed jets."
Da Schneib
5 / 5 (7) Dec 07, 2017
The paper, unfortunately, is closed access and there is no arXiv copy. Without a clear understanding of the methods by which they collected the data it's not clear whether they're talking about magnetics from the black hole itself or magnetics from the accretion disk currents. The article here does not make this clear. It's also not clear whether jets were being emitted at the time of the measurement. To add to the uncertainties, conditions could, and almost certainly do, change between times when there is a lot of matter falling into the accretion disk and when it is not. So while this is an interesting result, we need more information to decide what's going on here and to what extent it challenges current models of black hole accretion.
4.1 / 5 (9) Dec 07, 2017
I guess we should have expected Don Scott to say that because he's an idiot. Hawking radiation has nothing whatsoever to do with jets.
3.5 / 5 (2) Dec 07, 2017
@Da Schneib, if we are to accept that light cannot escape a black hole, then the magnetism cannot be from the black hole itself, given light and magnetism are from the same LIGHT SPEED limited force. I do find it interesting that gravity can escape from black holes. Weird comment I know. Helps to suggest that gravity is curvature of Spacetime and perhaps not a force with a force carrying particle. I (like you Da Schneib) thought a black holes magnetism must originate outside of the event horizon and therefore from an accretion disk and it's rate of rotation. A WILD speculative Sci-Fi idea of mine, is that from time to time, a black hole emits radiation because it sucked something in from SOMEWHERE else. Yup SciFi concept that a black hole is a tunnel to some other place and is perhaps a bi-directional atom shredding "machine".
Da Schneib
5 / 5 (3) Dec 07, 2017
@jimbo, it's not clear to me at all that magnetism can't be produced by a black hole since one of the things a BH can have is electric charge. See Kerr-Newman and Reisser-Nordstrom black holes (Wikipedia discusses these equations and you can follow up to scholarly sources for more detailed information).

I make no comment (quite deliberately) on anything that happens inside an event horizon since I don't think we have the physics even to speculate with any serious possibility of being right.
1 / 5 (5) Dec 07, 2017
Re: "Hawking radiation has nothing whatsoever to do with jets."

Perhaps, but his point remains that the black hole is just a placeholder term which morphs over time to suit theorists' needs -- and that it survives as a construct in part because its defenders could argue that they can be invisible to our instruments.

We see this pattern throughout cosmology. The big bang, e.g., seems to have grown in popularity because it was a way to reconcile religion with science. And Relativity was accepted at a time when there were really only a couple of observations available to support it (one of them involving plates which were held back). Then, there is the CMB -- a microwave signal coming at us from all directions -- which is assigned a metaphysical cause in large part because astrophysicists have either failed to inform (or didn't know themselves?), that the universe's most common state for matter emits them when it conducts electricity.
1 / 5 (4) Dec 07, 2017
Values for the CMB temperature were all over the map prior to its observation, making it apparent that the value did not actually matter -- since, you know, creation.

Edwin Hubble's former assistant, Halton Arp, and a crew of other astronomers were able to not only show that high-redshift quasars are associated with "foreground" galaxies, but that they were also in many cases connected with a sort of umbilical cord. A ridiculous number of papers were during this time published demonstrating a quantized inherent component to redshift.

Then, there is the awkward fact that a former advisor to the Department of Energy, Dr. Peratt, used government supercomputers in the early 80's to simulate galaxies with observed galactic rotation curves. What I think a lot of people here have missed is the reason why this simulation works: the currents travel through the spiral arms -- meaning that it produces an equivalent force along the entire diameter. Duh!
1 / 5 (4) Dec 07, 2017
It would seem that the universities, cosmology and the astrophysical discipline are all very ripe for a serious disruption at this point. They've become ideology factories run amok, and as they dig themselves deeper into the more wacky post-modernist hysteria, we may finally see the public take notice.
1 / 5 (7) Dec 07, 2017
This was painful to read. Sooo some gold digging group of people got funding for this study? Then post a paper where they try to seem surprised about the obvious findings? How can you be surprised that a phenomena that light cannot escape from does not have a large detectable magnetic field? (rhetorical) Stop posting stupid studies that point out the obvious. Slap people who say stupid things. Slap the people who ok funding for stupid things.
5 / 5 (3) Dec 08, 2017
Slap people who say stupid things. Slap the people who ok funding for stupid things.

How the irony in your post went over your head, I'm not entirely sure.
I do hope that if you live in a country with free healthcare though, the doctors will turn you down if you have any serious illness; after all, we can't have people fund stupid things, right :)
1 / 5 (3) Dec 08, 2017
Why is there a discussion at all about the phenomenon that discourse and researchers do not know about? The black hole is not a phenomenon that is seen and imagined by researchers and most of the discussion participants.
The black hole is the place where matter is transformed back into the form of the substance AETHER from which matter forms. When matter forms from Aether, two important phenomena occur: gravity that gathers matter of criticality and critical mass and critical gravity (black hole), and magnetism that plays a role in forming: waves, light, heat, connection with Aether.
1 / 5 (2) Dec 08, 2017
In this measure, these researchers have found a true feature of the black hole, that is, magnetism is reduced there, only they do not know why.
Here is their answer: gravity overcomes magnetism and breaks down matter into ingredients, in turn; 3 kg of particles, free gluons, 3 kg of particles lose gluon, and gluons dissolve on electrons and positrons, and these are returned to the form of Aethera.
The fact that the BH magnetic field was measured is a consequence of the magnetism in BH being balanced with magnetism outside BH, since Aether also has electromagnetic properties.
1 / 5 (2) Dec 08, 2017
Re: "Here is their answer: gravity overcomes magnetism and breaks down matter into ingredients"

I've seen many maverick thinkers try to reason about astrophysical objects using what appear to be the tools of quantum physics.

It's commendable that you apply your skepticism to textbook theory as well, but these particles you are discussing exhibit complex macroscopic behaviors in the laboratory. There is an entire "layer" of activity which you are skipping over in order to connect these two domains. This is called plasma physics, and it is an enormously controversial topic. I recommend spending some time learning about the behaviors of plasmas, because I can see from your analysis that you seem to think it plays no role in cosmic magnetism -- which I can tell you is a very serious mistake which you've accidentally inherited from the mainstream.

The people here will of course howl at the suggestion, but ...

1 / 5 (1) Dec 08, 2017
Apparently you did not understand what I wrote. When forming matter, quark gluon plasma is first formed, which are 3kg of the particle (3 quarks and 3 bonds of gluon) and free gluon, which occurs by annihilation of an electron-positron pair. Behind this process are formed of celestial bodies from which the chemical elements are formed up to the clusters of the galaxies. If something is not clear we can discuss this in detail, of course, if you have the knowledge and interest for that.
I do not care much about the works of some "scientists" who have a high level of science, because their deposition denies the basic existence of someone who has to manage all the happenings in the universe. People who do not believe in this and can not find out anything about it! 1.
1 / 5 (1) Dec 08, 2017
Re: "I do not care much about the works of some "scientists" who have a high level of science, because their deposition denies the basic existence of someone who has to manage all the happenings in the universe."

This sentence has no meaning (in the English language, at least). Would you like to clarify what you mean by it?
not rated yet Dec 08, 2017
How can you be surprised that a phenomena that light cannot escape from does not have a large detectable magnetic field? (rhetorical)
The problem isn't not so simple, because many black holes (especially these ones forming so-called active galactic nuclei or AGN) have large and easily observable magnetic field.
not rated yet Dec 09, 2017
To date, many high-renown scientists have produced many theory for phenomena that they did not know the origin or the way of creation and change. Today, science has no explanation as to how matter arises and from what it forms. The same applies to gravity, magnetism, energy, waves, heat and phenomena caused by their mutual relations. And in the end, they brought "final conclusions"
For example, this is about black holes, and science does not know how a black hole is produced and what its role is in the universe.
You know that everything that has been formed must disappear and reappear in some other form of action, but the matter created by AETHER must return to the eye of Aether, and this place is a black hole. This is a renewable process.

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.