Weird Black Hole Is Shooting Out Wobbly Jets Because It's Dragging Spacetime


This groundbreaking new observation has shown that, in cases where the disk of matter from a star and a nearby black hole's spin are misaligned, the black hole can fling jets around, making it appear to wobble like an enormous top over the span of just a few hours.

Often, as the enormous gravity of a black hole pulls gas from a nearby star, some of that material is shot back into space at almost the speed of light.

Some 7,800 light-years away, in the constellation of Cygnus, lies a most peculiar black hole.

The National Radio Astronomy Observatory is a facility of the National Science Foundation, operated under cooperative agreement by Associated Universities, Inc. As the material swirled into the black hole, it heated up enough to glow brightly. Material from the star falls toward the black hole and spirals inwards in an accretion disk, with powerful jets being launched from the inner regions close to the black hole.

The researchers had to use a different technique to capture what was happening in the black hole.

The black hole itself is rotating and the gravitational pull is so strong, it's actually pulling nearby space and time around with it.

Associate Professor Miller-Jones said the change in the movement of the jets was because of the accretion disk - the rotating disk of matter around a black hole.

Astronomers have spotted wobbly jets of particles shooting out from a black hole, and they believe that this odd motion could be happening because the black hole's strong gravitational pull is dragging space around it. Einstein's General Relativity theory predicts time passing more slowly for objects in gravitational fields - like here on Earth - than for objects far from such fields.

Back in 2015, the black hole V404 Cygni got the attention of astronomers all over the globe when it suddenly brightened for two weeks.

Artist's impression the binary star system V404 Cygni.

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

Miller-Jones, Tetarenko, and Sivakoff, along with colleagues from around the world, are reporting their results in the scientific journal Nature.

The team says that jets of fast-moving material shot from the area surrounding the black hole, which is nine-times more massive than the Sun, is wobbling so fast that its change in direction can be seen in periods as short as minutes. "Finding this astronomical first has deepened our understanding of how black holes and galaxy formation can work".

Co-author Alex Tetarenko from the University of Alberta, who is now working as an East Asian Observatory Fellow in Hawaii said, because the jets were changing direction, scientists "had to use a very different approach to most radio observations".

"We think the same physics should hold in other black holes and could be seen any time a spinning black hole is feeding rapidly from a gas reservoir that is not aligned with the black hole's rotation axis", Miller-Jones said.

"Typically, radio telescopes produce a single image from several hours of observation", she said. That causes the frame-dragging effect to warp the inner part of the disk, then pull the warped portion around with it.

In the case of V404 Cygni, the accretion disc is about 10 million kilometres (6.2 million miles) across.

When astronomers took a close look at the jets, they realized they were wobbling like a top.

Instead, 70-second-long individual exposures were combined to make a film of the action the astronomers were witnessing.

"Hot on the heels of our first image of a black hole, this study observes how the gas around a particularly hungry black hole varies with time", Professor Davis said.