Astronomers have found a black hole that behaves like one of those batting cages that automatically spits baseballs.
The stellar mass black hole ejects glowing cannon balls of plasma simultaneously in opposite directions that blaze though space at one-quarter the speed of light. That’s fast enough to travel from the sun to Earth in half an hour!
Astronomers don’t have any idea how the ultra-fast bullets are launched, but they do know that the fuel supply for these fireworks comes from a companion star to the black hole.
The black hole and companion star, called H1742, is 28,000 light-years away near the galactic center. NASA’s High Energy Optical Observatory first saw the X-ray sputtering in the late 1970s.
But astronomers had to wait for the sharpness of the Very Large Baseline Array (VLBA) radio telescope to look deep into the black hole. They also use the sensitivity of NASA’s Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer (RXTE) to take the black hole’s pulse. This interferometric radio array is sharp enough to see a human standing on the moon. It saw two plasma cannonballs launched on June 3, 2011, and clocked their speed.
Based on these observations, astronomers believe that a blob of hot gas formed in the accretion disk around the black hole. This was accompanied by fluctuations in the radio and X-ray emission from the vicinity of the black hole. As the blob spiraled in closer to the black hole the frequency of the emissions rose sharply.
The researchers believe they tracked the blob moving from 1,700 to 800 miles from the black hole. It then got caught up into the twin pair of jets being ejected along the black hole’s spin axis. The plasma split into two and flew in opposite directions.
This phenomenon has been seen accompanying supermassive black holes in the core of galaxies. A monster black hole in the center of the elliptical galaxy M87 has a string of runaway blobs that the Hubble Space Telescope has been tracking for over a decade.