Dis­tant black hole spot­ted shred­ding a star

Black holes may emit en­ergy in pro­por­tion to the amount of stel­lar ma­te­rial they con­sume

All About Space - - Launch Pad -

A black hole sit­u­ated more than a bil­lion light years away has torn up and de­voured a star, al­low­ing as­tronomers to gain a deeper in­sight into the work­ings of such ce­les­tial ob­jects. Sci­en­tists have been study­ing emis­sions from the su­per­mas­sive black hole and they have found a pro­por­tional link be­tween the X-rays that are pro­duced by stel­lar ma­te­rial fall­ing into the hole and the jet of en­ergy that is emit­ted. It gives clues as to how black holes de­vour mat­ter and reg­u­late the growth of gal­ax­ies.

The find­ings re­late to ra­dio sig­nals picked up in Novem­ber 2014 from 300 mil­lion light years away. Sci­en­tists found that the sig­nals matched closely with X-ray emis­sions pro­duced from a flare 13 days ear­lier. Such ra­dio echoes are con­sid­ered to be more than co­in­ci­dence, in­di­cat­ing some kind of burp. It sug­gests black hole jets are pow­ered by the ac­cre­tion rates and it is the first time sci­en­tists have been able to ob­serve it from a sin­gle event.

“This is telling us the black hole feed­ing rate is con­trol­ling the strength of the jet it pro­duces,” says Dheeraj Pasham, a post­doc at MIT's Kavli In­sti­tute. “A well-fed black hole pro­duces a strong jet, while a mal­nour­ished black hole pro­duces a weak jet or no jet at all. This is the first time we’ve seen a jet that’s con­trolled by a feed­ing su­per­mas­sive black hole.”

The re­sults will help as­tronomers work out the physics of jet be­hav­iour, which is es­sen­tial in mod­el­ling the evo­lu­tion of gal­ax­ies. “If the rate at which the black hole is feed­ing is pro­por­tional to the rate at which it’s pump­ing out en­ergy, and if that re­ally works for ev­ery black hole, it’s a sim­ple pre­scrip­tion you can use in sim­u­la­tions of galaxy evo­lu­tion,” says Pasham.

An artist's im­pres­sion of the jet emit­ted from a su­per­mas­sive black hole

as it feeds on a star

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