Integral spots matter a millisecond from doomMarch 24, 2011
ESA's Integral gamma-ray observatory has spotted extremely hot matter just a millisecond before it plunges into the oblivion of a black hole. But is it really doomed? These unique observations suggest that some of the matter may be making a great escape.
No one would want to be so close to a black hole. Just a few hundred kilometres away from its deadly surface, space is a maelstrom of particles and radiation. Vast storms of particles are falling to their doom at close to the speed of light, raising the temperature to millions of degrees.
Ordinarily, it takes just a millisecond for the particles to cross this final distance but hope may be at hand for a small fraction of them.
Thanks to the new Integral observations, astronomers now know that this chaotic region is threaded by magnetic fields.
This is the first time that magnetic fields have been identified so close to a black hole. Most importantly, Integral shows they are highly structured magnetic fields that are forming an escape tunnel for some of the doomed particles.
Philippe Laurent, CEA Saclay, France, and colleagues made the discovery by studying the nearby black hole, Cygnus X-1, which is ripping a companion star to pieces and feeding on its gas.
Their evidence points to the magnetic field being strong enough to tear away particles from the black hole's gravitational clutches and funnel them outwards, creating jets of matter that shoot into space. The particles in these jets are being drawn into spiral trajectories as they climb the magnetic field to freedom and this is affecting a property of their gamma-ray light known as polarisation.
A gamma ray, like ordinary light, is a kind of wave and the orientation of the wave is known as its polarisation. When a fast particle spirals in a magnetic field it produces a kind of light, known as synchrotron emission, which displays a characteristic pattern of polarisation. It is this polarisation that the team have found in the gamma rays. It was a difficult observation to make.
"We had to use almost every observation Integral has ever made of Cygnus X-1 to make this detection," says Laurent.
Amassed over seven years, these repeated observations of the black hole now total over five million seconds of observing time, the equivalent of taking a single image with an exposure time of more than two months. Laurent's team added them all together to create just such an exposure.
"We still do not know exactly how the infalling matter is turned into the jets. There is a big debate among theoreticians; these observations will help them decide," says Laurent.
Jets around black holes have been seen before by radio telescopes but such observations cannot see the black hole in sufficient detail to know exactly how close to the black hole the jets originate. That makes these new observations invaluable.
"This discovery of polarized emission from a black hole jet is a unique result demonstrating that Integral, which is covering the high-energy band in ESA's wide spectrum of scientific missions, continues to produce key results more than eight years after its launch," says Christoph Winkler, ESA Integral Project Scientist.
European Space Agency
Related Black Hole Articles:
Scientists at the University of Nottingham have made a significant leap forward in understanding the workings of one of the mysteries of the universe.
Astronomers have watched as a massive, dying star was likely reborn as a black hole.
A team of scientists has discovered that a law controlling the bizarre behavior of black holes out in space -- is also true for cold helium atoms that can be studied in laboratories.
Astronomers have found evidence of a star that whips around a likely black hole twice an hour.
By analyzing the gas motion of an extraordinarily fast-moving cosmic cloud in a corner of the Milky Way, Astronomers found hints of a wandering black hole hidden in the cloud.
The beautiful spiral galaxy visible in the center of the image is known as RX J1140.1+0307, a galaxy in the Virgo constellation imaged by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, and it presents an interesting puzzle.
Astronomers have combined data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, the Hubble Space Telescope and the National Science Foundation's Karl G.
Astrophysicists from Goethe-University Frankfurt have found a simple formula for the maximum mass of a rotating neutron star and hence answered a question that had been open for decades.
Astronomers have uncovered a near-record breaking supermassive black hole, weighing 17 billion suns, in an unlikely place: in the center of a galaxy in a sparsely populated area of the universe.
Astronomers have uncovered one of the biggest supermassive black holes, with the mass of 17 billion Suns, in an unlikely place: the centre of a galaxy that lies in a quiet backwater of the Universe.
Related Black Hole Reading:
Black Hole (Pantheon Graphic Novels)
by Charles Burns (Author)
Winner of the Eisner, Harvey, and Ignatz Awards
The setting: suburban Seattle, the mid-1970s. We learn from the outset that a strange plague has descended upon the area’s teenagers, transmitted by sexual contact. The disease is manifested in any number of ways — from the hideously grotesque to the subtle (and concealable) — but once you’ve got it, that’s it. There’s no turning back.
As we inhabit the heads of several key characters — some kids who have it, some who don’t, some who are about to get it — what unfolds isn’t the expected battle to fight... View Details
Death by Black Hole: And Other Cosmic Quandaries
by Neil deGrasse Tyson (Author)
“[Tyson] tackles a great range of subjects . . . with great humor, humility, and―most important― humanity.” ―Entertainment WeeklyLoyal readers of the monthly "Universe" essays in Natural History magazine have long recognized Neil deGrasse Tyson's talent for guiding them through the mysteries of the cosmos with clarity and enthusiasm. Bringing together more than forty of Tyson's favorite essays, ?Death by Black Hole? explores a myriad of cosmic topics, from what it would be like to be inside a black hole to the movie industry's... View Details
A Black Hole Is Not a Hole
by Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano (Author), Michael Carroll (Illustrator)
Budding astronomers and scientists will love this humorous introduction to the extremely complex concept of black holes. With space facts and answers about the galaxies (ours, and others) A Black Hole is NOT a Hole takes readers on a ride that will stretch their minds around the phenomenon known as a black hole.
In lively and text, the book starts off with a thorough explanation of gravity and the role it plays in the formation of black holes. Paintings by Michael Carroll, coupled with real telescopic images, help readers visualize the facts and ideas presented in the... View Details
The Little Book of Black Holes (Science Essentials)
by Steven S. Gubser (Author), Frans Pretorius (Author)
Dive into a mind-bending exploration of the physics of black holes
Black holes, predicted by Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity more than a century ago, have long intrigued scientists and the public with their bizarre and fantastical properties. Although Einstein understood that black holes were mathematical solutions to his equations, he never accepted their physical reality―a viewpoint many shared. This all changed in the 1960s and 1970s, when a deeper conceptual understanding of black holes developed just as new observations revealed the existence of quasars... View Details
The Care and Feeding of a Pet Black Hole
by Michelle Cuevas (Author)
A girl's friendship with a lonely black hole leads her to face her own sadness in this original, funny, and touching middle grade novel for fans of Crenshaw and Flora & Ulysses.
When eleven-year-old Stella Rodriguez shows up at NASA to request that her recording be included in Carl Sagan's Golden Record, something unexpected happens: A black hole follows her home, and sets out to live in her house as a pet. The black hole swallows everything he touches, which is challenging to say the least—but also turns out to be a convenient way to get rid of those items... View Details
Black Holes (A True Book)
by Ker Than (Author)
Describes how black holes form, their different sizes, how scientists find black holes in space, and if anything can escape from its gravitational pull. View Details
Black Holes and Time Warps: Einstein's Outrageous Legacy (Commonwealth Fund Book Program)
by Kip S. Thorne (Author), Stephen Hawking (Foreword)
Winner of the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics
Ever since Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity burst upon the world in 1915 some of the most brilliant minds of our century have sought to decipher the mysteries bequeathed by that theory, a legacy so unthinkable in some respects that even Einstein himself rejected them.
Which of these bizarre phenomena, if any, can really exist in our universe? Black holes, down which anything can fall but from which nothing can return; wormholes, short spacewarps connecting regions of the cosmos; singularities, where... View Details
Black Holes and Baby Universes and Other Essays
by Stephen W. Hawking (Author)
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
THIRTEEN EXTRAORDINARY ESSAYS SHED NEW LIGHT ON THE MYSTERIES OF THE UNIVERSE—AND ON ONE OF THE MOST BRILLIANT THINKERS OF OUR TIME.
In his phenomenal bestseller A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking literally transformed the way we think about physics, the universe, reality itself. In these thirteen essays and one remarkable extended interview, the man widely regarded as the most brilliant theoretical physicist since Einstein returns to reveal an amazing array of possibilities for understanding our universe.
Building on... View Details
Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space
by Janna Levin (Author)
The authoritative story of Rainer Weiss, Barry Barish, and Kip Thorne’s Nobel Prize–winning discovery of gravitational waves—by an eminent theoretical astrophysicist and award-winning writer.
With A New Preface
In 1916, Einstein predicted the presence of gravitational waves. One century later, we are recording the first sounds from space, evidence of the waves’ existence caused by the collision of two black holes. An authoritative account of the headline-making discovery by theoretical astrophysicist and award-winning writer Janna Levin, Black Hole Blues... View Details
Black Holes: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)
by Katherine Blundell (Author)
Black holes are a constant source of fascination to many due to their mysterious nature. This Very Short Introduction, addresses a variety of questions, including what a black hole actually is, how they are characterized and discovered, and what would happen if you came too close to one.
Professor Katherine Blundell looks at the seemingly paradoxical, mysterious, and intriguing phenomena of black holes. Outlining their nature and characteristics, both those resulting from the spectacular collapse of heavy stars, and the giant black holes found at the centres of galaxies, she... View Details