Black Hole's Major Flare Unlocks the Mysteries of These Giant Eruptions
Black holes are becoming a little less mysterious with the help of NASA's Explorer missions Swift and Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR). These telescopes have caught a supermassive black hole in the midst of a giant eruption of X-ray light, helping answer the question as to how supermassive black holes flare.
"This is the first time we have been able to link the launching of the corona to a flare," said Dan Wilkins, one of the researchers, in a news release. "This will help us understand how supermassive black holes power some of the brightest objects in the universe."
Supermassive black holes don't give off any light themselves, but they are often encircled by disks of hot, glowing material. The gravity of a black hole actually pulls swirling gas into it, heating this material and causing it to shine with different types of light. Another source of radiation near a black hole is the corona. Coronas are made up of highly energetic particles that generate X-ray light, but details about their appearance, and how they form, are unclear.
Astronomers believe that coronas have one of two likely configurations. There's the "lamppost model," which says they are compact sources of light, similar to light bulbs, that sit above and below the black hole, along its rotation axis. The other model states that the coronas are spread out more diffusely, either as a larger cloud around the black hole, or as a "sandwich" that envelops the surrounding disk of material like slices of bread. In fact, it's possible that coronas switch between both the lamppost and sandwich configurations.
This latest data actually supports the "lamppost" model and shows how the light-bulb-like coronas move. In this case, the researchers looked at the supermassive black hole, called Markarian 335.
"The corona gathered inward at first and then launched upwards like a jet," said Wilkins. "We still don't know how jets in black holes form, but it's an exciting possibility that this black hole's corona was beginning to form the base of a jet before it collapsed."
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