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How do supermassive black holes launch powerful jets of matter? With hot gas and magnetism.

15 Oct 2020, 13:00 UTC
How do supermassive black holes launch powerful jets of matter? With hot gas and magnetism.
(200 words excerpt, click title or image to see full post)

The environment around a supermassive black hole is fairly complex.

Sitting in the centers of galaxies, that’s not too surprising. It’s crowded there, like being downtown in a big city at rush hour. But in this case it’s worse, because in a city you don’t have octillions of tons of material swirling around the city center at nearly the speed of light that has been heated to millions of degrees and blasts out vast amounts of energy making them the most powerful sources of radiation in the Universe.

Whereas supermassive black holes many times do. The disk is called an accretion disk, and conditions in it are difficult to understand. To make matters worse, sometimes these black holes and their disks somehow focus this energy and matter into twin beams, like a double light saber, that scream out at nearly the speed of light up and down, from the disk.

These beams, which astronomers call jets, contain energy across the electromagnetic spectrum from radio waves to X-rays. If that jet is pointed toward Earth, we can see all this radiation, and we call these types of objects quasars (or, if even super-high-energy light is seen, blazars). They’re phenomenally bright, and ...

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