There aren’t many things more mysterious than a black hole. Maybe the song Supermassive Black Hole by Muse, but that’s a mystery not worth exploring.
Real black holes, however, are intriguing as hell and definitely worth exploring. Just what are they? What happens to things that get sucked into them? And how long before one gets so big it envelopes the Earth and everything on it?
Up until now, the one thing scientists thought they knew about black holes was that their gravitational pull was so strong not even light can escape it, hence the blackness and holiness.
But get ready to be astounded folks, because NASA has actually just seen something emerge from a black hole.
New observations from NASA’s Explorer missions Swift, and the Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) and noted a giant eruption of light bursting from the centre of a supermassive blackhole in the Pegasus constellation, which is around 324 million light years away.
The new findings suggest that when coronas, which are a source of extremely energetic particles, build up around a black hole, they can suddenly shoot away from the black hole, resulting in a beam of X-ray light, as the Express reports.
Dan Wilkins, from Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, Canada, said:
This is the first time we have been able to link the launching of the corona to a flare.
This will help us understand how supermassive black holes power some of the brightest objects in the universe.
Black holes themselves don’t release light. However, they are often seen with a ring of light around them, which is due to particles being drawn towards them and building up.
Why are some black holes feasting and others starving? Astronomers are finding evidence that magnetic fields may be the key to keeping dust close enough to be gobbled up by supermassive black holes lurking in the heart of most galaxies. Dive in: https://t.co/OFPfeasRHm pic.twitter.com/Tj4FIob500
— NASA (@NASA) October 16, 2018
Coronas are also fairly common, but their formation is less clear. NASA suggest they are likely to be formed from a ‘lamppost’ model.
The ‘lamppost’ model says they are compact sources of light, similar to light bulbs, that sit above and below the black hole, along its rotation axis.
The new data support the ‘lamppost’ model – and demonstrate, in the finest detail yet, how the light-bulb-like coronas move.
Suggesting how the light emerged from the corona which was just observed, Dan Wilkins added:
The corona gathered inward at first and then launched upwards like a jet.
We still don’t know how jets in black holes form, but it’s an exciting possibility that this black hole’s corona was beginning to form the base of a jet before it collapsed.
According to scientists, coronas move incredibly quickly, and this once was travelling at 20 per cent the speed of light.
When this happens, and the corona launches in our direction, its light is brightened in an effect called relativistic Doppler boosting.
Putting this all together, the results show that the X-ray flare from this black hole was caused by the ejected corona.
While they might not have all the answers to questions about black holes, this new occurrence seems to be a big step forward in understanding them.
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Charlie Cocksedge is a journalist at UNILAD. He graduated from the University of Manchester with an MA in Creative Writing, where he learnt how to write in the third person, before getting his NCTJ. His work has also appeared in such places as The Guardian, PN Review and the bin.