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Black Hole Jets Hotter Than Expected

Artist's impression of a quasar
Artist's impression of a quasar, with a supermassive black hole in the center. (Image credit: Wolfgang Steffen, Institute for Astronomy, UNAM, Mexico)

New observations of a jet-emitting black hole show astonishing temperatures inside the jets of 10 trillion degrees Kelvin — a toasty 18 trillion degrees Fahrenheit. This new measurement shows that quasars can blow far past the theoretical temperature limit of 100 billion degrees Kelvin (179 billion degrees Fahrenheit), which has scientists puzzled.

"This result is very challenging to explain with our current understanding of how relativistic jets of quasars radiate," said lead author Yuri Kovalev of the Moscow's Lebedev Physical Institute in a statement.

Observations of quasar 3C 273 were done with the Russian Skeptr-R satellite working in concert with three ground observatories as part of the larger RadioAstron mission. Quasars are supermassive black holes that emit intense jets of radiation.

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Previously, it was believed there was a limit to the temperature because the electrons inside the jet would produce X-rays and gamma rays, interact with each other and cool down.

Artist's impression of the Russian Spektr-R satellite. (Image credit: Astro Space Center of Lebedev Physical Institute)

Astronomers hailed the finding as a triumph for interferometry, which occurs when multiple telescopes are linked together to get fine resolution of a distant object. The four observatories working together can get better resolution than the Hubble Space Telescope (although Hubble does not observe in X-rays or gamma rays).

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The team also had a secondary find, which was that 3C 273 had previously unknown visible distortions to its substructure as seen from Earth, caused by peering through the interstellar medium in our own Milky Way. The distortion was only spotted because of the resolution of RadioAstron, researchers said in a statement.

The results were published in The Astrophysical Journal.

Originally published on Discovery News.

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Elizabeth Howell
Elizabeth Howell is a contributing writer for who is one of the few Canadian journalists to report regularly on space exploration. She is pursuing a Ph.D. part-time in aerospace sciences (University of North Dakota) after completing an M.Sc. (space studies) at the same institution. She also holds a bachelor of journalism degree from Carleton University. Besides writing, Elizabeth teaches communications at the university and community college level. To see her latest projects, follow Elizabeth on Twitter at @HowellSpace.