Secrets of Mysterious Black Hole Jets Revealed

Jets have power to spew iron and nickel, study finds
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 14, 2013 12:54 PM CST
Secrets of Mysterious Black Hole Jets Revealed
This undated handout artist rendering shows a powerful pair of jets from a stellar black hole.   (AP Photo/European Southern Observatory/L.Calcada)

For years, astronomers have wondered what exactly black holes spew into our universe—and now they know. Iron and nickel have been found shooting from the relativistic jets of a black hole several times larger than our sun, but the finding is more surprising than it may seem. It shows the jets are much more powerful than previously believed since they have the power to move heavy atoms; it also identifies the mysterious contents that left scientists stumped as to why the jet's electrons didn't have a negative charge overall. "We now know that ordinary matter must be providing the positive charge," the study's co-author told the Los Angeles Times.

The Nature study, which looked at radio waves and X-rays emitted from black hole 4U 1630-47, also offers clues to other mysteries surrounding black holes, like what causes the jets in the first place. The study points to a disk of matter surrounding the black hole, as opposed to the black hole's spin, and "we are planning further observations to try and confirm this," the co-author said. Another interesting find? Those jets are moving more than a little bit faster than the average hot tub: They travel at 123,000 miles per second, or 66% of the speed of light. Astronomy notes that while the black hole in question is rather small, the research would apply to larger ones, too. (Read more astronomy stories.)

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