Astronomers Make Movie of Black Hole Spinning Like a Top


Like a variety of black holes, it is sustaining on a close by star hauling gas away from the star and creating a disk of matter that encompasses the black hole and whorls towards it under gravity. And while the researchers admit that black holes are some of the most extreme objects in the universe, this one is different.

Where jets are usually thought to shoot straight out from the poles of black holes, these jets were shooting out in different directions at different times. This mysterious black hole is ejecting powerful jets of matter as it's devouring the early red giant.

However, because this black hole was evolving so fast, the team had to use a special technique to capture it in action. According to the theory, massive objects, such as black holes, distort space and time, and when they spin, their gravitational influence pulls space and time around with it, also known as frame-dragging. In V404 Cygni, the jet direction was changing on timescales of hours, or even minutes.

Using the Very Long Baseline Array-an intercontinental system of 10 radio telescopes operated from a center in Socorro, New Mexico-the team observed the jets at a high resolution, equivalent to seeing a quarter in NY from the distance of Los Angeles.

The inner part of the accretion disk was precessing and effectively pulling the jets around with it, Associate Professor Miller-Jones said.

Astronomers have spotted wildly wobbling jets of particles spewing out of a black hole, and they think this unusually rapid motion could be happening because the black hole's strong gravity is warping space around it. This is believed to be the first direct observation of the Lense-Thirring Precession occurring around a black hole, Sarazin said.

'You can think of it like the wobble of a spinning top as it slows down - only in this case, the wobble is caused by Einstein's theory of general relativity'. It is part of a binary system in which it and a sun-like star orbit one another.

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Astronomers all over the world trained their telescopes on this outburst, providing data right across the electromagnetic spectrum, from radio waves to X-rays. But we do not yet understand the nature of this connection between the inflowing gas and the outflowing jets.

Scientists were able to observe a black hole that fires rapid jets of plasma clouds in different directions. To get better images, they captured over 100 images with 70-second exposures and merged those images to create an animation.

During the bright outburst, the intense radiation from the black hole caused the inner few thousand kilometres of the accretion disk to become puffed up into a doughnut-shaped structure. "Finding this astronomical first has deepened our understanding of how black holes and galaxy formation can work".

'These jets were changing so fast that in a four-hour image we just saw a blur, ' Alex Tetarenko, a co-author of the study and PhD graduate from the University of Alberta, said in a statement.

"If we just made a single image we would have never caught the behaviour."
But in this case, the black hole's spin is offset from the disk of material swirling around it.

While the researchers may have an explanation for the wildly wobbling jets of V404 Cygni, they have not yet figured out exactly where those jets are coming from.

"That allowed us to see exactly what was going on", Professor Miller-Jones said. The team had to make 103 individual images that were each about 70 seconds long and combine them to make a movie. The disk gets denser and hotter as the distance from the black hole decreases.