For the first time, astronomers have observed how some supermassive black holes shoot high-energy particles into space — and the process is terrifying.
Shock waves propagated through the jets of one such blazar strengthen the magnetic field that accelerates the escaping particles to nearly the speed of light, astronomers report on November 23. nature. Studying such extreme acceleration can help answer fundamental physics questions that cannot be investigated in any other way.
Blazars are active black holes that shoot high-energy particles at Earth, causing bright spots to appear millions or even billions of light-years away.SN: 7/14/15). Astronomers knew that the extreme speeds of the bursts and the narrow columnar radii had something to do with the shape of the magnetic fields around black holes, but the details were murky.
Enter the Imaging X-Ray Polarimetry Explorer, or IXPE, a telescope orbiting in December 2021. Its mission is to measure X-ray polarization, or how X-ray light is oriented as it travels through space. While previous observations of blazars examined polarized radio waves and optical light fragments days to years after they were accelerated, polarized X-rays can see into the active core of a blazar (SN: 3/24/21).
“In X-rays, you’re looking at the heart of an accelerating particle,” says astrophysicist Yannis Liodakis of the University of Turku in Finland. “You’re really looking for a country where everything is done.”
In March 2022, IPXE observed an extremely bright blazar called Markarian 501, located about 450 million light-years from Earth.
Liodakis and colleagues had two main ideas for how Markarian’s magnetic field accelerates 501’s force. The particles could be boosted by magnetic reconnection, where magnetic field lines break, reform and connect with other nearby lines. The same process accelerates the plasma in the sun (SN: 11/14/19). If this was a particle accelerating machine, the polarization of light at all wavelengths, from radio waves to X-rays, should be the same.
Another option is collision waves sending particles down the jet. In a shocked situation, the magnetic field will suddenly change from turbulent to ordered. That switch could send particles zooming away, like water through the umbilical cord. As the particles leave the shocked site, they must reoccupy the turbidity. If the impact was responsible for the acceleration, the short X-rays must be more polar than the longer-range optical and radio light measured by other telescopes.
That’s exactly what the researchers saw, Liodakis says. “Of course we’ve come,” he said, as the exposure of the shock wave favors.
We still need to figure out how the particles flow, says astrophysicist James Webb of Florida International University in Miami. For one, it is not clear what caused the shock. “But this is a step in the right direction,” he said. “It’s like opening a new window and taking a fresh look at things, and now we’re seeing things that we didn’t see before. It’s very exciting.”
#supermassive #black #holes #twinkle #brightly