Racing outward at about one-quarter the speed of light, these "bullets" of ionized gas are thought to arise from a region located just outside the black hole's event horizon, the point beyond which nothing can escape.
"Like a referee at a sports game, we essentially rewound the footage on the bullets' progress, pinpointing when they were launched," said Gregory Sivakoff of the University of Alberta in Canada. He presented the findings today at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Austin, Texas. "With the unique capabilities of RXTE and the VLBA, we can associate their ejection with changes that likely signaled the start of the process."
The research centered on the mid-2009 outburst of a binary system known as H1743–322, located about 28,000 light-years away toward the constellation Scorpius. Discovered by NASA's HEAO-1 satellite in 1977, the system is composed of a normal star and a black hole of modest but unknown masses. Their orbit around each other is measured in days, which puts them so close together that the black hole pulls a continuous stream of matter from its stellar companion. The flowing gas forms a flattened accretion disk millions of miles across, several times wider than our sun, centered on the black hole. As matter swirls inward, it is compressed and heated to tens of millions of degrees, so hot that it emits X-rays.
Some of the infalling matter becomes re-directed out of the accretion disk as dual, oppositely directed jets. Most of the time, the jets consist of a steady flow of particles. Occasionally, though, they morph into more powerful outflows that hurl massive gas blobs at significant fractions of the speed of light.
In early June 2009, H1743–322 underwent this transition as astronomers watched with RXTE, the VLBA, the Very Large Array near Socorro, N.M., and the Australia Telescope Compact Array (ATCA) near Narrabri in New South Wales. The observatories captured changes in the system's X-ray and radio emissions as the transformation occurred.
From May 28 to June 2, the system's X-ray and radio emissions were fairly steady, although RXTE data show that cyclic X-ray variations, known as quasi-periodic oscillations or QPOs, gradually increased in frequency over the same period. On June 4, ATCA measurements showed that the radio emission had faded significantly.
Astronomers interpret QPOs as signals produced by the interaction of clumps of ionized gas in the accretion disk near the black hole. When RXTE next looked at the system on June 5, the QPOs were gone.
The same day, the radio emission increased. An extremely detailed VLBA image revealed a bright, radio-emitting bullet of gas moving outward from the system in the direction of one of the jets. On June 6, a second blob, moving away in the opposite direction, was seen.
Until now, astronomers had associated the onset of the radio outburst with the bullet ejection event. However, based on the VLBA data, the team calculated that the bullets were launched on June 3, about two days before the main radio flare. A paper on the findings will be published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
"This research provides new clues about the conditions needed to initiate a jet and can guide our thinking about how it happens," said Chris Done, an astrophysicist at the University of Durham, England, who was not involved in the study.
A super-sized version of the same phenomenon occurs at the center of an active galaxy, where a black hole weighing millions to billions of times our sun's mass can drive outflows extending millions of light-years.
"Black hole jets in binary star systems act as fast-forwarded versions of their galactic-scale cousins, giving us insights into how they work and how their enormous energy output can influence the growth of galaxies and clusters of galaxies," said lead researcher James Miller-Jones at the International Center for Radio Astronomy Research at Curtin University in Perth, Australia.
The Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer, which operated from Dec. 1995 to Jan. 2012, was managed by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. The VLBA, the world's largest and highest-resolution astronomical instrument, is controlled from the National Radio Astronomy Observatory's Domenici Science Operations Center.
Francis Reddy | EurekAlert!
First chip-scale broadband optical system that can sense molecules in the mid-IR
24.05.2018 | Columbia University School of Engineering and Applied Science
Nuclear physicists leap into quantum computing with first simulations of atomic nucleus
24.05.2018 | DOE/Oak Ridge National Laboratory
A research team led by physicists at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) has developed molecular nanoswitches that can be toggled between two structurally different states using an applied voltage. They can serve as the basis for a pioneering class of devices that could replace silicon-based components with organic molecules.
The development of new electronic technologies drives the incessant reduction of functional component sizes. In the context of an international collaborative...
At the LASYS 2018, from June 5th to 7th, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) will be showcasing processes for the laser material processing of tomorrow in hall 4 at stand 4E75. With blown bomb shells the LZH will present first results of a research project on civil security.
At this year's LASYS, the LZH will exhibit light-based processes such as cutting, welding, ablation and structuring as well as additive manufacturing for...
There are videos on the internet that can make one marvel at technology. For example, a smartphone is casually bent around the arm or a thin-film display is rolled in all directions and with almost every diameter. From the user's point of view, this looks fantastic. From a professional point of view, however, the question arises: Is that already possible?
At Display Week 2018, scientists from the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research IAP will be demonstrating today’s technological possibilities and...
So-called quantum many-body scars allow quantum systems to stay out of equilibrium much longer, explaining experiment | Study published in Nature Physics
Recently, researchers from Harvard and MIT succeeded in trapping a record 53 atoms and individually controlling their quantum state, realizing what is called a...
The historic first detection of gravitational waves from colliding black holes far outside our galaxy opened a new window to understanding the universe. A...
02.05.2018 | Event News
13.04.2018 | Event News
12.04.2018 | Event News
24.05.2018 | Ecology, The Environment and Conservation
24.05.2018 | Medical Engineering
24.05.2018 | Physics and Astronomy