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Study suggests black hole jets get their power from spin

Posted November 21, 2014

A team of space scientists working in Italy has found more evidence that suggests the energy needed to emit jets from supermassive black holes comes from the spin of the black hole itself. In their paper published in the journal Nature, the team describes how their survey of data from NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope allowed for comparing two types of emissions from the black holes, which showed a correlation.

black hole

This artist’s concept depicts a supermassive black hole at the center of a galaxy. The blue color here represents radiation pouring out from material very close to the black hole. The grayish structure surrounding the black hole, called a torus, is made up of gas and dust. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Scientists know that some supermassive black holes, the kind that typically exist at the center of galaxies, shoot out particles at near the speed of light in a constant stream (aka as jets)—such black holes have accretion disks and because the black hole spins, the jets as viewed from Earth tend to blink—they are generically known as quasars (or blazars if their jets are aligned with us.) What’s not been clear is where the energy comes from to support such jets. The general theory is that it most likely comes from the gravitational effect of material in an accretion disk being pulled in. But calculations have suggested that might not be enough to account for the amount of energy needed to produce the jets. In this new effort, the researchers looked at data from NASA’s telescope to see if more information could be found to better explain the true source.

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