The black hole spitting out jet beams like a weird spinning top

Katie Ramirez
May 3, 2019

"This appears to be causing the inner part of the disc to wobble like a spinning top and fire jets out in different directions as it changes orientation", explained Miller-Jones.

The material around the star is being pulled away and is orbiting the black hole, creating a disc of matter, much like the way you see water form a vortex around a drain.

We seem to see jets anywhere in the universe where there are inflows of matter onto a central object such as a black hole. "While jets are usually seen moving away in opposite directions from a feeding black hole, it is rare to see the jet direction changing over time, particularly on such short timescales".

The National Radio Astronomy Observatory is a facility of the National Science Foundation, operated under cooperative agreement by Associated Universities, Inc.

"Similarly, although nothing escapes a black hole, some of the gas about to fall into a black hole can be ejected at 99.999% of the speed of light in jets".

"Many people have this vision of black holes where if something gets too close to a black hole, the black hole will eat the material", said Gregory Sivakoff, a U of A astrophysicist and professor in the department of physics, said Monday.

The researchers had to use a different technique to capture what was happening in the black hole. "For supermassive black holes in the centres of galaxies, this can impact regions of space far larger than the host galaxy itself".

This is a continent-sized array of ten 25-metre wide radio dishes, spread across the United States from Hawaii to the Virgin Islands.

"Because the axis about which the black hole was spinning was not the same as the axis of the binary orbit, the puffed up disk was forced to wobble about the black hole spin axis like a spinning top that is slowing down", Miller-Jones said. The rapid wobble, known as precession, seen with this black hole hasn't been seen in other systems. "Only in this case, the wobble is caused by Einstein's general theory of relativity", Miller-Jones said. Located in the Cygnus constellation about 7,800 light-years from Earth, the cosmic pair was dubbed V404 Cygni.

"Everybody jumped on the outburst with whatever telescopes they could throw at it", he said.

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The findings of the study are published in the journal Nature.

Normally, jets shoot straight out from the poles of black holes, but these jets have been spotted shooting in different directions at different times - and they were changing direction rapidly, every couple of hours.

However, "These jets were changing so fast that in a four-hour image we saw just a blur", said Alex Tetarenko, a recent Ph.D graduate from the University of Alberta and now an East Asian Observatory Fellow working in Hawaii.

"If we just made a single image we would have never caught the behaviour."

It's so fast that the usual method radio telescopes use for imaging space were practically useless.

Animation of the precessing jets and accretion flow in V404 Cygni.

"It would be like trying to take a picture of a waterfall with a one-second shutter speed".

Since the V404 Cygni black hole didn't follow the same rules as conventional blackholes, the ICRAR team has to combine 103 images of the black hole, each around 70 seconds long, in order to observe the phenomenon.

Black holes are odd objects in the universe that get their name from the fact that nothing can escape their gravity, not even light.

Particularly in V404 Cygni, the black hole's spin axis is misaligned from the plane of its orbit with its starry companion, which causes the frame-dragging effect to "warp" the inner area of the disk and then pull the warped portion around with it.

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