By: April Carson
Even though black holes emit no light that we can detect, they love to cloak themselves in radiance. Scientists have long sought to understand this phenomenon, and have now uncovered the secret of how black holes produce some of the most luminous light in the universe.
Although black holes are notorious for being eaters of light, some of the brightest light in the Universe actually comes from these massive space objects. The bright light emitted is not from the black holes themselves, but rather from the matter around them that gets pulled in as they consume their surroundings.
Some of the brightest galaxies in the universe are known as blazars. These galaxies not only emit intense heat, but also channel material into powerful beams that travel through space. The electromagnetic radiation emitted by these galaxies is extremely energetic and difficult to comprehend.
After years of research, scientists have finally discovered how the black hole produces high-energy light that has taken billions of years to reach us: Shocks in the black hole's jets increase the speed of particles to unbelievable speeds.
"It only took us 40 years, but we finally did it," says Yannis Liodakis, an astronomer of the Finnish Centre for Astronomy with ESO (FINCA). "We had all of the pieces we needed, and once we put them together, everything became clear."
A supermassive black hole is located in the center of most galaxies throughout the Universe, and can sometimes be very active or dormant. When a black hole is very active, it can create powerful jets of gas that shoot out from its center at almost the speed of light.
The activity of accreting material creates a vast cloud that assembles into an equatorial disk, circling the black hole like water around a drain. The frictional and gravitational interactions within extreme space surrounding a black hole cause this material to heat up and shine brightly across multiple wavelengths. This is one source of light for black holes.
The other source of light is the powerful jets of particles that spew out from the poles of the black hole. These particles travel at nearly the speed of light, and when they meet, they generate shock waves that radiate in different directions and can be seen across a range of frequencies in space.
The other kind of black hole, the one at play in blazars, spews out twin jets of material from its polar regions. These jets are made up of stuff from the inner rim of the disk that falls along external magnetic field lines toward the black hole's poles instead of straight into the black hole. The acceleration flings this matter outward at very high speeds–almost as fast as light itself.
A galaxy is classified as a blazar when the jets are pointed almost directly toward the Earth. The gamma- and X-rays are accelerated to such high levels that they blaze with light across the electromagnetic spectrum.
The Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE), launched in December 2021, has given scientists the key to understanding how this jet of particles is accelerated to such high speeds. It's the first space telescope that reveals the orientation, or polarization, of X-rays. This new information will help researchers solve a mystery that has puzzled them for decades.
The IXPE has also helped astronomers discover that the brilliant light from blazars is produced directly by the black hole itself. The supermassive black hole at the center of a galaxy sucks in matter and energy, creating enormously powerful beams as it spins around.
Astronomer Immacolata Donnarumma of the Italian Space Agency stated, "The first X-ray polarization measurements of this class of sources allowed, for the first time, a direct comparison with the models developed from observing other frequencies of light, from radio to very high-energy gamma rays."
This discovery has shed light on the physical processes happening in these extremely energetic regions of space. The data from IXPE will help scientists to better understand how Black Holes accelerate particles and produce the most brilliant light in the universe.
IXPE was fixated on the brightest high-energy object in our sky, a blazar known as Markarian 501. This is an immensely bright quasar located 460 million light-years away from Earth in the constellation of Hercules. For six consecutive days in March 2022, IXPE collected data on the X-ray light emitted by this jet associated with the quasar. The results revealed unprecedentedly high polarization levels and highly structured features, patterns that were impossible to explain with the existing models.
While other observatories were measuring the light from various wavelength ranges including radio and optical, data for Markarian 501 was previously only available in those ranges.
The team observed a curious difference in the X-ray light. Its waves were significantly more twisted, or polarized, than the lower-energy wavelengths. And the optical light was more polarized than radio frequencies.
This phenomenon is known to be caused by the outer jets of black holes, but the alignment and twist of these X-rays were beyond what scientists had expected.
The researchers concluded that the data indicated a correlation between the powerful light emitted from black holes and the polarized X-ray waves they produce.
The team's findings were consistent with models where jets produce shockwaves that X-radiate closest to the source of the shock and then optical/radio emit lower energy light as particles lose energy further from the initial impulse.
This suggests that the most extreme display of light emitting from black holes is created by shocks, proving that powerful outflows are at work in these objects.
According to Alan Marscher, an astronomer from Boston University, "When the shock wave crosses the region, the magnetic field intensity builds and energy of particles gets greater. The source of this added energy is from movement energy of the materials causing the shockwave."
Further research is needed to elucidate the mechanism behind these shocks, but one possibility is that faster material in the jet catches up with slower-moving clumps, resulting in collisions.
This research is an important part of the puzzle because blazars are some of the most powerful particle accelerators in space, and they can help us understand extreme physics.
Researchers will continue to study Markarian 501, and use IXPE to examine other blazars for similar polarization. This could lead to a better understanding of the powerful energy that black holes generate, and help us learn even more about the universe.
The research has been published in the journal Nature.
Billy Carson & Doctah B Sirius Blueprint for Godpower.
About the Blogger:
April Carson is the daughter of Billy Carson. She received her bachelor's degree in Social Sciences from Jacksonville University, where she was also on the Women's Basketball team. She now has a successful clothing company that specializes in organic baby clothes and other items. Take a look at their most popular fall fashions on bossbabymav.com
To read more of April's blogs, check out her website! She publishes new blogs on a daily basis, including the most helpful mommy advice and baby care tips! Follow on IG @bossbabymav
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