How black holes fire gas jets into space

January 12th, 2012 - 4:05 pm ICT by IANS  

Sydney, Jan 12 (IANS) Scientists are a step closer to figuring out how black holes can fire superfast gas bullets into space, by determining the precise moment when they form, a study reveals.

James Miller-Jones, principal investigator in Curtin University International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR), and his team of radio astronomers from around the world made the discovery.

They combined observations from NASA’s Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer (RXTE) satellite and US National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA) radio telescope, according to a university statement.

“The jets (bullets) are launched at speeds approaching that of light and producing about as much energy in an hour as the Sun emits in five years. We have been studying these jets to try to understand how they form and the impact they have on their surroundings,” said Miller-Jones.

According to Miller-Jones, identifying the moment when the gas bullets were fired could help reveal more about similar processes occurring around super-sized black holes at the centres of galaxies.

“The research focuses on star systems called X-ray binaries. These are double-star systems in which a normal star is in a very close orbit with a black hole,” he said.

“Due to their proximity, gas from the normal star is pulled in towards the black hole by its enormous gravitational field. Some of the gas that is spiralling inwards can be flung outwards in narrow beams of ionized gas that we call jets, probably with the help of very strong magnetic fields,” said Miller-Jones.

“This same process is seen in many different types of systems throughout the universe, from forming young stars to feeding black holes, both in binary systems and at the centres of galaxies, and also in the hyper-energetic explosions known as gamma-ray bursts,” he concluded.

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