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Event Horizon Telescope spots weird black-hole jet mystery inside quasar

At the same time the Event Horizon Telescope was gathering data to create the first-ever image of a black hole, it was also observing an even stranger object.

That object was a quasar, a pair of jets full of super-fast material shooting out from near a supermassive black hole. And the Event Horizon Telescope data suggested that those jets aren't working the way scientists had expected them to, with confusing kinks at their base.

"We knew that every time you open a new window to the universe you can find something new," Jae-Young Kim, an astronomer at the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Germany who led the new research, said in a statement from the institute. "Here, where we expected to find the region where the jet forms by going to the sharpest image possible, we find a kind of perpendicular structure. This is like finding a very different shape by opening the smallest Matryoshka doll."

Related: Eureka! Scientists photograph a black hole for the 1st time

The quasar is known as 3C 279 and is located 5 billion light-years away from Earth. Astronomers identified the object as a quasar because of an incredibly bright point of light at its center. That point seems to mark jets of particles where the black hole — which contains about the mass of a billion suns — is spitting out material that it can't quite capture.

The Event Horizon Telescope studied the object over four days in April 2017. And the collaboration could study these jets at a resolution of less than one light-year. (A light-year is the distance light travels in a year, about 6 trillion miles or 9.7 trillion kilometers.) That detail let astronomers on the new research analyze small details within the jets near their source. The scientists thought these jets would begin as they continued, as straight beams.

But what the team found was unexpected. According to this new view, at its base, a jet is a twisted structure that changes from day to day. The researchers don't yet know how any of  this occurs, although they think it could have something to do with how the jets meet the accretion disk surrounding the black hole.

Scientists involved in the research also think that the jet's strange structure could help explain why the material in the jet appears to be moving toward us at a whopping 20 times the speed of light, a complex optical illusion.

The Event Horizon Telescope's successively magnified views of a quasar dubbed 3C 279. (Image credit: J.Y. Kim (MPIfR), Boston University Blazar program, and the EHT Collaboration)

Like the groundbreaking black hole image published last year, the new research relies on the Event Horizon Telescope's data-intense technique to turn a global array of instruments into one massive, Earth-size telescope. In 2017, eight observatories took part in the project; by next summer that number should be 11. The more facilities take part, the sharper the Event Horizon Telescope's results become.

"The EHT array is always improving," Shep Doeleman, founding director of the Event Horizon Telescope and an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astronomy, said in a statement released by the EHT consortium. "These new quasar results demonstrate that the unique EHT capabilities can address a wide range of science questions, which will only grow as we continue to add new telescopes to the array."

However, the COVID-19 pandemic closed observatories within the network and forced the Event Horizon Telescope to cancel its annual observing campaign for 2020. Scientists affiliated with the project will spend this year focused on further analyzing the 2017 data that included these quasar results, as well as beginning to analyze data gathered in 2018.

The research is described in a paper published today (April 7) in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics.

Email Meghan Bartels at mbartels@space.com or follow her @meghanbartels. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook. 

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  • Catastrophe
    "Scientists involved in the research also think that the jet's strange structure could help explain why the material in the jet appears to be moving toward us at a whopping 20 times the speed of light, a complex optical illusion."

    Now that is VERY interesting!

    Cat
    Reply
  • dfjchem721
    Cat, the same effect was seen by the Hubble from the jet emitted by M-87's supermassive black hole. Hubble measured the velocity of this jet at 4-6 times the speed of light. It is called "superluminal motion*, (and) is an illusion caused by the relativistic velocity of the jet."**

    Also a remarkable feature of M-87's jet (from Wiki)**:

    "The jet is precessing, causing the outflow to form a helical pattern out to 1.6 parsecs (5.2 light-years). Lobes of expelled matter extend out to 80 kiloparsecs (260,000 light-years)."

    That means this jet has a "length" ca. 2.5 time the diameter of the Milky Way. I would rate that as a WOW!

    One wonders whether the precession of this jet is related to the activities seen at the base of 3C 279's jets. Seeing changes in the jets from day to day seems quite remarkable. Changes on this scale usually occur over much longer periods, so whatever is going on there is exceptionally energetic.

    Probably not a good place for a vacation.


    * https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Superluminal_motion

    ** https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Messier_87#Jet
    Reply
  • Catastrophe
    dfjchem721 said:
    Cat, the same effect was seen by the Hubble from the jet emitted by M-87's supermassive black hole. Hubble measured the velocity of this jet at 4-6 times the speed of light. It is called "superluminal motion*, (and) is an illusion caused by the relativistic velocity of the jet."**

    Also a remarkable feature of M-87's jet (from Wiki)**:

    "The jet is precessing, causing the outflow to form a helical pattern out to 1.6 parsecs (5.2 light-years). Lobes of expelled matter extend out to 80 kiloparsecs (260,000 light-years)."

    That means this jet has a "length" ca. 2.5 time the diameter of the Milky Way. I would rate that as a WOW!

    One wonders whether the precession of this jet is related to the activities seen at the base of 3C 279's jets. Seeing changes in the jets from day to day seems quite remarkable. Changes on this scale usually occur over much longer periods, so whatever is going on there is exceptionally energetic.

    Probably not a good place for a vacation.


    * https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Superluminal_motion

    ** https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Messier_87#Jet
    " I would rate that as a WOW!"
    Probably in 256 point letters!
    Cat ;)
    Reply
  • Multi-wavelength
    back in 2001 i made a multi-wavelength composite image of the jet of M87.

    and discovered what i believe to be the creation of a new Globular Cluster by the jet.



    see my cheap website for a rough description of the theory.

    it goes a little bit kooky with the concept of a 'plasma helix', but the main point is the probability that we are seeing a Globular cluster being formed and therefore have a new object and process to study.


    Private Message me for the link
    Link Removed by Moderator
    Reply
  • dfjchem721
    How do you propose these clusters to form? Is the jet compressing large amounts of gas in front of it, thereby creating a large ball of hydrogen which could condense into a globular cluster?

    The detonation of a bolide (asteroid or comet) over Tunguska, Russia back in the early part of the 1900s reminds me a little of this concept. The bolide's average size was about 400 feet in diameter (+/-), this is all from memory). Incoming speed estimated 20,000+ mph.

    The size of the object and its speed as it entered the atmosphere created an enormous pressure differential on the it. The air in front got piled up super fast, and the vacuum created behind it could not be filled fast enough to cover the frontal pressure as it raced through an increasingly dense atmosphere. Because of its size, it withstood the pressure until it overcame the bolide's structural integrity, resulting in a blast at about 10 km or so, with an estimated "down force" of about 3 MT (total high end ca. 15 MT).

    Admittedly it is a tad different from the model of gas compression by a galactic jet, but seems to have a similar principle - concentrating a large amount of gas with a major end result. Well, at least two relatively major events.....
    Reply
  • Multi-wavelength
    dfjchem721 said:
    How do you propose these clusters to form? Is the jet compressing large amounts of gas in front of it, thereby creating a large ball of hydrogen which could condense into a globular cluster?

    the jet appears to be formed by 2 streams of plasma (emanating from the proximity of the black hole at left and emitting x-ray and radio light respectively*) ... which then merge (plasma fusion?) at the bright spot to form a condensed blob of high energy plasma (emitting light in the x-ray range).

    ******************************************************************
    *in the image Blue is x-ray emitting plasma (Chandra Space Telescope source image) and Red is radio emitting plasma (Very Large Array source image).
    Reply
  • Multi-wavelength
    about the Hubble Space Telescope Optical image.

    very little of the jet is visible in the optical portion of the light spectrum. particularly along the main body of the jet before it hits the bright spot. what we see appears as indications of turbulence, and which i think is the contact and mixing zones between the 2 plasmas.

    it seems that the actual components of the jet (ie: the plasmas) are only visible in the x-ray and radio portions of the light spectrum.
    with the x-ray plasma being the more energetic of the two and forming the final product as well.
    Reply
  • dfjchem721
    You did not answer my primary question. How does all this generate a large hydrogen cloud one supposes is required for the formation of a globular cluster.

    And some thumbs up are appreciated!
    Reply
  • Multi-wavelength
    dfjchem721 said:
    You did not answer my primary question. How does all this generate a large hydrogen cloud one supposes is required for the formation of a globular cluster.

    I did?

    There are 2 streams of plasma which merge to form a condensed blob.

    whether that plasma material is hydrogen or some other type, i don't know.

    I don't believe the process takes the form of the "jet compressing large amounts of gas in front of it, thereby creating a large ball of hydrogen".

    The plasma itself already constitutes the material of the Globular Cluster. It is emitted by the Galactic Core (from close proximity to the Black Hole) and later combined (at the bright spot) and then trickle fed along a Flux Tube (see pictures in next post) where it finally condenses and forms a large blob.

    The difference (seen with the multi-wavelength image) is that the jet is much more robust than previously considered.

    A huge amount of material is flowing along the jet.

    Here's the VLA Radio Image by itself to show some of the material.


    much more material is seen in the radio, in deference to the optical image.

    ***********************************************************
    dfjchem721 said:
    And some thumbs up are appreciated!

    I'm not sure what the "thumbs up" means.

    i usually don't hang out at message boards and am not too familiar with all the things that are done. Have i not done something that i should have?
    Reply
  • Multi-wavelength
    The actual formation of the Globular Cluster as a spherical Blob occurs in a bizarre way. I've made an attempt at theorizing how it happens but of course i could be wrong.




    click on the 2nd image to enlarge.

    Because of the concepts involved ie: "Plasma Physics of a Relativistic Jet" i hazard a guess that magneto-hydrodynamics may exhibit effects we would not normally consider at such scales.

    Sorry that it looks like a completely different (and crazy seeming) picture to what is usually thought about when it comes to black hole physics.
    ...and even what's thought about Nuclear Jets.

    but if we are seeing the mechanism that creates Globular Clusters and we compare that with the number of Clusters we see in M87, then the robustness of the jet fits the picture of a 'continuous production run'.
    Reply