Like a black hole isn’t mysterious enough, researchers have now found one emitting rapidly-swinging jets.
Jets from black hole V404 Cygni — almost 8,000 light years from Earth — are wobbling like a spinning top on a much faster time scale than scientists thought, changing the black hole’s orientation in a matter of hours, say researchers, including those from the University of Alberta.
Researchers initially thought the jets emitted from Cygni travelled in similar directions but upon closer inspection, determined this was not the case.
“Many people have this vision of black holes where if something gets too close to a black hole, the black hole will eat the material,” said Gregory Sivakoff, a U of A astrophysicist and professor in the department of physics, Monday.
“What happens is while things are on their way, it’s possible that some of the material gets diverted and one of the ways it gets diverted is into these jets of material that basically appear to be coming away from the black hole — but they come from material that just hasn’t reached the black hole. So it’s as if the black hole is burping out some material as it’s eating.”
What sets Cygni apart from other black holes is the speed at which the “jet blobs,” as Sivakoff refers to them, are spitting out of the black hole.
“It takes maybe 100 days to go through the complete cycle of spitting things out. In this case, we’ve seen the jet angle change on time scales of less than four hours,” said Sivakoff.
Researchers think that in the case of Cygni, the disc of material and the black hole are misaligned, causing the inner part of the disc to wobble and fire out jets in different directions as it changes orientation.
“When we did the observations we hoped to figure out when the jet blobs were actually launched but we were never expecting that the direction they were going to be launched in was going to be changing, so this was a complete surprise,” added Sivakoff.
The jet blobs are spitting out at very near the speed of light and in a few hours are traversing a distance that is the size of our solar system, said Sivakoff, adding researchers want to find out if this behaviour is special in comparison to other black holes.
“It potentially changes the way that we think about all black holes in the universe and potentially how black holes can affect how galaxies form, like our own,” said Sivakoff.