Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

X-ray satellite homes in on a black hole's jets

Date:
July 2, 2010
Source:
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
Summary:
Astronomers using NASA's Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer satellite, together with optical, infrared and radio data, find that, at times, most of the X-rays come from Black Hole jets.

XTE J1550-564 is a binary system in which an evolved star orbits -- and donates matter to -- a black hole estimated at 10 times the sun's mass.
Credit: ESO/L. Calηada

For decades, X-ray astronomers have studied the complex behavior of binary systems pairing a normal star with a black hole. In these systems, gas from the normal star streams toward the black hole and forms a disk around it. Friction within the disk heats the gas to millions of degrees -- hot enough to produce X-rays. At the disk's inner edge, near the black hole, strong magnetic fields eject some of the gas into dual, oppositely directed jets that blast outward at about half the speed of light.

That's the big picture, but the details have been elusive. For example, do most of the X-rays arise from the jets? The disk? Or from a high-energy region on the threshold of the black hole?

Now, astronomers using NASA's Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer (RXTE) satellite, together with optical, infrared and radio data, find that, at times, most of the X-rays come from the jets.

"Theoretical models have suggested this possibility for several years, but this is the first time we've confirmed it through multiwavelength analysis," said David Russell, lead author of the study and a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Amsterdam.

Russell and his colleagues looked at a well-studied outburst of the black-hole binary XTE J1550-564. The system lies 17,000 light-years away in the southern constellation of Norma and contains a black hole with about 10 times the sun's mass. The usually inconspicuous binary was discovered by RXTE in 1998, when the system briefly became one of the brightest X-ray sources in the sky.

Between April and July 2000, the system underwent another outburst. RXTE monitored the event in X-rays, with some additional help from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory. Optical and infrared observations covering the outburst came from the YALO 1-meter telescope at Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile, while radio observations were collected by the Australia Telescope Compact Array.

Drawing on these data, Russell and his team reconstructed a detailed picture of X-ray emission during the outburst. The study appears in the July 1 edition of Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

"We suspect that these outbursts are tied to increases in the amount of mass falling onto the black hole," explained Russell. "Where and how the emission occurs are the only clues we have to what's going on."

As the outburst began in mid-April 2000, the system's brightest X-ray emission was dominated by higher-energy ("hard") X-rays from a region very close to the black hole.

"We think the source of these X-rays is a region of very energetic electrons that form a corona around the innermost part of the disk," Russell said. When these electrons run into photons of visible light, the collision boosts the photons to hard X-ray energies, a process known as inverse Compton scattering. The jets were present, but only minor players.

Over the next couple of weeks, the peak X-ray emission moved to lower ("softer") energies and seems to have come from the dense gas in the accretion disk. At the same time, the hot disk quenched whatever process powers the jets and shut them down.

By late May 2000, XTE J1550-564's accretion disk was cool enough that the jets switched on again. Most of the X-rays, which were fainter but higher in energy, again came from scattering off of energetic electrons close to the black hole.

In early June, as the system faded and its peak emission gradually softened, the jets emerged as the main X-ray source. In the jet, electrons and positrons moving at a substantial fraction of light speed emit the radiation as they encounter magnetic fields, a process called synchrotron emission.

The jets require a continuous supply of particles with energies of a trillion electron volts -- billions of times the energy of visible light. "The total energy bound up in the jet is enormous, much larger than previously thought," Russell said.

As summer wore on, the jets gradually faded and their X-ray emission softened. By September, the system's brightest X-rays came from high-speed blobs of matter that the jets had hurled into space during previous eruptions.

"We're really beginning to get a handle on the 'ecology' of these extreme systems, thanks in large part to RXTE," Russell added. "We can apply what we've learned in nearby binaries like XTE J1550 to the supersized black holes and jets found at the centers of galaxies."

Launched in 1995, RXTE is still going strong. "Of currently operating NASA missions, only Hubble has been working longer," said Tod Strohmayer, the mission's project scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. RXTE's unique capabilities provide insight into accreting black holes and neutron stars and allow it to detect short, faint outbursts that are easily missed by other current missions exploring the X-ray regime.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center. "X-ray satellite homes in on a black hole's jets." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 2 July 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/07/100701183530.htm>.
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center. (2010, July 2). X-ray satellite homes in on a black hole's jets. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 20, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/07/100701183530.htm
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center. "X-ray satellite homes in on a black hole's jets." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/07/100701183530.htm (accessed April 20, 2014).

Share This



More Space & Time News

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

SpaceX's Dragon Spacecraft Captured by International Space Station

SpaceX's Dragon Spacecraft Captured by International Space Station

Reuters - US Online Video (Apr. 20, 2014) — SpaceX's unmanned Dragon spacecraft makes a scheduled Easter Sunday rendezvous with the International Space Station. Rough Cut (no reporter narration). Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Easter Morning Delivery for Space Station

Raw: Easter Morning Delivery for Space Station

AP (Apr. 20, 2014) — Space station astronauts got a special Easter treat: a cargo ship full of supplies. The SpaceX company's cargo ship, Dragon, spent two days chasing the International Space Station following its launch from Cape Canaveral. (April 20) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
A Hoax? Cosmetics Company Wants To Brighten The Moon

A Hoax? Cosmetics Company Wants To Brighten The Moon

Newsy (Apr. 19, 2014) — FOREO, a Swedish cosmetics company, says it wants to brighten the moon to lower electricity costs. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Space X Launches to Space Station

Raw: Space X Launches to Space Station

AP (Apr. 18, 2014) — On it's second attempt this week, The Space X company launched Friday from Cape Canaveral to ferry supplies to the International Space Station. (April 18) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins