Plasma Jets Mystery Solved After Decades Using ‘Heartbeat’ of Black Hole


Researchers collected 15 years of data using several telescopes for the study. (Representational photo: Canva)

Scientists made a heartbeat graph of a black hole along with a star orbiting around each other.

A latest study published in Nature Astronomy has unravelled the decade-old mystery behind the formation of plasma jets. A team of scientists led by Mariano Méndez from the University of Groningen, Netherlands made a heartbeat graph of a black hole along with a star orbiting around each other. This graph led them to some fascinating findings which they have published in the paper. Drawing a parallel between the functioning of a human heart and a black hole, the study explained that as blood cannot be in the ventricles and atrium of the human heart at the same time, a black hole also first collects materials before heating it up. The heating takes place in a structure called corona which forms outside of the event horizon – the boundary around a black hole.

Subsequently, powerful jets of plasma are launched from the poles that punch the material from corona out into space. Scientists claim that the material is spat out at a speed close to the speed of light in a vacuum. Highlighting the significance of the study, Mariano Méndez said, “It sounds logical, but there has been a debate for twenty years about whether the corona and the jet were simply the same thing.” He further emphasised that the corona and the jets arise one after the other and that the “jet follows from the corona.”

Reportedly, the researchers collected 15 years of data using several telescopes for the study. Notably, they positioned the Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer to the black hole GRS 1915+105 from space every three days and collected high-energy X-ray radiation from the corona.

Talking about the challenges faced, Mariano said that demonstrating the sequential nature was not that easy. He claimed that the team had to “compare data of years with that of seconds, and of very high energy with very low ones.”

However, although the sequence has been proven by the researchers, some things are yet to be answered. One puzzling observation is that the X-ray radiation collected by telescopes from the corona has more energy than can be explained from the corona alone. Researchers suspect that this could be due to the extra energy provided by the magnetic field.

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