Brigham Young University Homepage

News

Release

News Release

Movement of black holes powers the universe’s brightest lights, study finds

Whether on their own or orbiting as a pair, black holes don’t typically sit still.

Not only do they spin, they can also move laterally across their host galaxy. And according to astrophysicists at Brigham Young University, both types of movement power massive jets of energy known as quasars.

The study, which appears in the current issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is the first to compute what may fuel some of the brightest persistent lights in the universe.

These spectacular jets stream out of galaxies that contain discs of debris and gas, the remnants of stars ripped apart by the force from black holes.

“The black hole is like a generator spinning around in these magnetic fields,” said BYU professor David Neilsen, lead author of the study. “The way the field lines get twisted around and pulled by the spinning black hole creates electromagnetic tension that gets turned into radiation and energy that goes out.”

One black hole in the galaxy Centauras A propels radiation in a jet measuring 1 million light-years long.

The spin of black holes has been believed to play a role since the idea was put forward in 1977. The new study confirms this theory while also introducing a totally new component: that a black hole’s lateral movement also powers these jets.

“Rotational kinetic energy contributes, but the simple movement like a billiard ball can also contribute to this,” said BYU professor Eric Hirschmann, a co-author of the study. “The two processes don’t compete with each other, they combine with each other to give you the overall energy that streams away from the black hole.”

In other words, the biggest and brightest quasars could come from black holes that both spin fast and traverse their host galaxy at high speeds.

Researchers from six other institutions appear as co-authors on the new study.

Become a fan of BYU at facebook.com/byu and follow us on Twitter @byu.

Comments

Report Abuse

Login to post a comment.BYU students and employees can comment on this story by logging in. Comments are moderated and will remain posted if they are on-topic, use clean language and show respect for others.


  8/3/2011 12:53 PM by Justin

Jessica, you are my hero.


  8/3/2011 1:11 AM by Jessica

I feel enlightened.


  7/20/2011 11:03 PM by William

Cool stuff


Click here to download
BYU astrophysicists David Neilsen (right) and Eric Hirschmann (left) computed how black holes power some of the brightest lights in the universe, which are often called quasars.

Click here to download
Jets of streaming radiation expelled by the central black hole of a massive spiral galaxy light up this composite image of Centaurus A. The jets emanating from Cen A are over a million light-years long.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints | BYU-Hawaii | BYU-Idaho | BYU Jerusalem Center | BYU Salt Lake Center | LDS Business College | Missionary Training Center
Updated daily by the BYU Web Team Brigham Young University Provo, UT 84602 (801) 422-4636 Copyright © 2009. Brigham Young University. All Rights Reserved.