At the cores of many galaxies, supermassive black holes expel powerful jets of particles at nearly the speed of light. Just how they perform this feat has long been one of the mysteries of astrophysics. The leading theory says the particles are accelerated by tightly-twisted magnetic fields close to the black hole, but confirming that idea required an elusive close-up view of the jet's inner throat.
Now, using the unrivaled resolution of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory's Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA), astronomers have watched material winding a corkscrew outward path and behaving exactly as predicted by the theory.
"We have gotten the clearest look yet at the innermost portion of the jet, where the particles actually are accelerated, and everything we see supports the idea that twisted, coiled magnetic fields are propelling the material outward," said Alan Marscher, of Boston University, leader of an international research team. "This is a major advance in our understanding of a remarkable process that occurs throughout the Universe," he added.
Marscher's team studied a galaxy called BL Lacertae (BL Lac), some 950 million light-years from Earth. BL Lac is a blazar, the most energetic type of black-hole-powered galactic core. A black hole is a concentration of mass so dense that not even light can escape its gravitational pull. Supermassive black holes in galaxies' cores power jets of particles and intense radiation in similar objects including quasars and Seyfert galaxies.
Material pulled inward toward the black hole forms a flattened, rotating disk, called an accretion disk. As the material moves from the outer edge of the disk inward, magnetic field lines perpendicular to the disk are twisted, forming a tightly-coiled bundle that, astronomers believe, propels and confines the ejected particles. Closer to the black hole, space itself, including the magnetic fields, is twisted by the strong gravitational pull and rotation of the black hole.
Theorists predicted that material moving outward in this close-in acceleration region would follow a corkscrew-shaped path inside the bundle of twisted magnetic fields. They also predicted that light and other radiation emitted by the moving material would brighten when its rotating path was aimed most directly toward Earth.
Marscher and his colleagues predicted there would also be a flare later when the material hits a stationary shock wave called the "core" some time after it has emerged from the acceleration region.
"That behavior is exactly what we saw," Marscher said, when his team followed an outburst from BL Lac. In late 2005 and early 2006, the astronomers watched BL Lac with an international collection of telescopes as a knot of material was ejected outward through the jet. As the material sped out from the neighborhood of the black hole, the VLBA could pinpoint its location, while other telescopes measured the properties of the radiation emitted from the knot.
Bright bursts of light, X-rays, and gamma rays came when the knot was precisely at locations where the theories said such bursts would be seen. In addition, the alignment of the radio and light waves -- a property called polarization -- rotated as the knot wound its corkscrew path inside the tight throat of twisted magnetic fields.
"We got an unprecedented view of the inner portion of one of these jets and gained information that's very important to understanding how these tremendous particle accelerators work," Marscher said.
Dave Finley | EurekAlert!
Sharpening the X-ray view of the nanocosm
23.03.2018 | Changchun Institute of Optics, Fine Mechanics and Physics
Drug or duplicate?
23.03.2018 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Angewandte Festkörperphysik IAF
Satellites in near-Earth orbit are at risk due to the steady increase in space debris. But their mission in the areas of telecommunications, navigation or weather forecasts is essential for society. Fraunhofer FHR therefore develops radar-based systems which allow the detection, tracking and cataloging of even the smallest particles of debris. Satellite operators who have access to our data are in a better position to plan evasive maneuvers and prevent destructive collisions. From April, 25-29 2018, Fraunhofer FHR and its partners will exhibit the complementary radar systems TIRA and GESTRA as well as the latest radar techniques for space observation across three stands at the ILA Berlin.
The "traffic situation" in space is very tense: the Earth is currently being orbited not only by countless satellites but also by a large volume of space...
An international team of researchers has discovered a new anti-cancer protein. The protein, called LHPP, prevents the uncontrolled proliferation of cancer cells in the liver. The researchers led by Prof. Michael N. Hall from the Biozentrum, University of Basel, report in “Nature” that LHPP can also serve as a biomarker for the diagnosis and prognosis of liver cancer.
The incidence of liver cancer, also known as hepatocellular carcinoma, is steadily increasing. In the last twenty years, the number of cases has almost doubled...
In just a few weeks from now, the Chinese space station Tiangong-1 will re-enter the Earth's atmosphere where it will to a large extent burn up. It is possible that some debris will reach the Earth's surface. Tiangong-1 is orbiting the Earth uncontrolled at a speed of approx. 29,000 km/h.Currently the prognosis relating to the time of impact currently lies within a window of several days. The scientists at Fraunhofer FHR have already been monitoring Tiangong-1 for a number of weeks with their TIRA system, one of the most powerful space observation radars in the world, with a view to supporting the German Space Situational Awareness Center and the ESA with their re-entry forecasts.
Following the loss of radio contact with Tiangong-1 in 2016 and due to the low orbital height, it is now inevitable that the Chinese space station will...
Fraunhofer Institute for Organic Electronics, Electron Beam and Plasma Technology FEP, provider of research and development services for OLED lighting solutions, announces the founding of the “OLED Licht Forum” and presents latest OLED design and lighting solutions during light+building, from March 18th – 23rd, 2018 in Frankfurt a.M./Germany, at booth no. F91 in Hall 4.0.
They are united in their passion for OLED (organic light emitting diodes) lighting with all of its unique facets and application possibilities. Thus experts in...
A new scenario seeking to explain how Mars' putative oceans came and went over the last 4 billion years implies that the oceans formed several hundred million...
23.03.2018 | Event News
19.03.2018 | Event News
16.03.2018 | Event News
23.03.2018 | Materials Sciences
23.03.2018 | Agricultural and Forestry Science
23.03.2018 | Physics and Astronomy