Thursday, November 5, 2015

NASA: Cosmic Energy Is Shooting Away From Black Holes

Black Hole Has Major Flare

The Anatomy of a Black Hole Flare
This diagram shows how a shifting feature, called a corona, can create a flare of X-rays around a black hole. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The baffling and strange behaviors of black holes have become somewhat less mysterious recently, with new observations from NASA's Explorer missions Swift and the Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR. The two space telescopes caught a supermassive black hole in the midst of a giant eruption of X-ray light, helping astronomers address an ongoing puzzle: How do supermassive black holes flare?

The results suggest that supermassive black holes send out beams of X-rays when their surrounding coronas -- sources of extremely energetic particles -- shoot, or launch, away from the black holes.

"This is the first time we have been able to link the launching of the corona to a flare," said Dan Wilkins of Saint Mary's University in Halifax, Canada, lead author of a new paper on the results appearing in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. "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 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.

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