Black Hole Outburst Caught on Video

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Astronomers have caught a black hole hurling hot material into space at close to the speed of light. This flare-up was captured in a new movie from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory.

The black hole and its companion star make up a system called MAXI J1820+070, located in our Galaxy about 10,000 light years from Earth. The black hole in MAXI J1820+070 has a mass about eight times that of the Sun, identifying it as a so-called stellar-mass black hole, formed by the destruction of a massive star. (This is in contrast to supermassive black holes that contain millions or billions of times the Sun's mass.)

The companion star orbiting the black hole has about half the mass of the Sun. The black hole's strong gravity pulls material away from the companion star into an X-ray emitting disk surrounding the black hole.

While some of the hot gas in the disk will cross the "event horizon" (the point of no return) and fall into the black hole, some of it is instead blasted away from the black hole in a pair of short beams of material, or jets. These jets are pointed in opposite directions, launched from outside the event horizon along magnetic field lines. The new footage of this black hole's behavior is based on four observations obtained with Chandra in November 2018 and February, May, and June of 2019, and reported in a paper led by Mathilde Espinasse of the Universite de Paris.

Just how fast are the jets of material moving away from the black hole? The actual velocity of the particles in both jets is greater than 80% of the speed of light.

A paper describing these results is published in the latest edition of The Astrophysical Journal Letters and is available online.

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