Astronomers have observed a black hole outburst and have caught it on video. For this, they used NASA’s Chandra X-ray observatory.
Astronomers, using NASA’s Chandra X-ray observatory, have caught a video of a black hole spewing hot material into space at close to the speed of light.
MAXI J1820+070 is a binary system made up of a black hole and its companion star. It lies about 10,000 light-years from Earth inside our galaxy.
The black hole in MAXI J1820+070 is about eight times more massive than the sun. The mass suggests it is a stellar black hole formed by the destruction of a massive star.
Meanwhile, the companion star orbiting the black hole has about half the mass of the sun. The strong gravity of the black hole constantly pulls material away from the companion star. This creates an X-ray emitting disk surrounding the black hole.
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Some of the gas in the disk falls into the black hole, meaning it crosses the event horizon. However, the remaining material gets ejected into space in a pair of short beams of material, or jets. These jets spew in opposite directions launched from outside the event horizon along magnetic field lines.
The new footage of this event comes as the result of four observations with Chandra in November 2018 and February, May, and June of 2019.
The researchers reported the observation in a paper led by Mathilde Espinasse of the Université de Paris.
The main panel of the graphic is a large optical and infrared image of the Milky Way galaxy from the PanSTARRS optical telescope in Hawaii, with the location of MAXI J1820+070 above the plane of the galaxy marked by a cross.
The inset shows a movie that cycles through the four Chandra observations, where “day 0” corresponds to the first observation on November 13th, 2018, about four months after the jet’s launch. MAXI J1820+070 is the bright X-ray source in the middle of the image and sources of X-rays can be seen moving away from the black hole in jets to the north and south. MAXI J1820+070 is a point source of X-rays, although it appears to be larger than a point source because it is much brighter than the jet sources. The southern jet is too faint to be detected in the May and June 2019 observations.
How fast are these jets?
From our perspective, it looks as if the northern jet is moving at 60% the speed of light. Meanwhile, the southern jet is traveling at an impossible-sounding 160% of light speed.
This is an example of superluminal motion. The phenomenon occurs when something travels towards us near the speed of light, along a direction close to our line of sight. This gives us the illusion that the jet’s motion is more rapid than the speed of light.
The southern jet is pointing towards us and the northern jet is pointing away from us. This means the southern jet appears to be moving faster than the northern one. However, the actual velocity of the particles in both jets is the same. It’s calculated to be greater than 80% of the speed of light.
Studies like this can teach us more about the jets produced by stellar-mass black holes and how they release their energy once their jets interact with their surroundings.