Black hole wobbling, rapidly shooting out jets in different directions | News Coverage from USA

Black hole wobbling, rapidly shooting out jets in different directions

A black hole almost 8,000 light-years from Earth isn’t behaving normally and instead rapidly shooting out swinging jets in different directions that leave behind plasma clouds, researchers have discovered.

“This is one of the most extraordinary black hole systems I’ve ever come across,” James Miller-Jones, part of the Australian team of scientists that made the finding, said in a statement.

Black holes consume nearby stars by pulling away their gas and create a disk of material that spirals toward it, Miller-Jones said.

While V404 Cygni, the black hole detailed in a research letter published Tuesday in the peer-reviewed journal Nature, is doing just that, something else is off, Miller-Jones said.

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“What’s different in V404 Cygni is that we think the disk of material and the black hole are misaligned,” Miller-Jones said.

The disk is over 6.2 million miles wide, but the inner section began puffing up and wobbling, Miller-Jones said.

As a result, the wobbling inner disk was “effectively pulling the jets around with it,” causing them to fire out in different directions and at rates not seen before, the researchers say.

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Because of the speed, the team had a hard time actually capturing images to show what was happening.

“These jets were changing so fast that in a four-hour image we just saw a blur,” Alex Tetarenko, a co-author of the research letter, said in statement. “It was like trying to take a picture of a waterfall with a one-second shutter speed.”

Tetarenko said one image is normally created from a few hours of observation, but the team made 103, each 70 seconds long, then joined the images together in one movie so they could spot the jets.

The team that made the discovery is part of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research, a collaboration between Curtin University and The University of Western Australia.

Researchers first identified V404 Cygni as a black hole in 1989 after detecting a big jet and radiation outburst. The abnormal events detailed in the research letter occurred in 2015 when another massive outburst, this one lasting two weeks, had scientists studying the black hole even more closely.

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The team said the wobble that occurred could also occur in other events in space. 

“Anytime you get a misalignment between the spin of a black hole and the material falling in, you would expect to see this when a black hole starts feeding very rapidly,”  study co-author Gemma Anderson said in a statement. “That could include a whole bunch of other bright, explosive events in the Universe, such as supermassive black holes feeding very quickly or tidal disruption events, when a black hole shreds a star.”

The discovery comes on the heels of other momentous progress in black hole research. Earlier this month, astronomers released humanity’s first image of a black hole.

Follow USA TODAY’s Ryan Miller on Twitter @RyanW_Miller

 

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