What are black holes made of? Scientists closing in on answer.

Astronomers have found evidence of nickel and iron in the jets emitted by a black hole, suggesting that the baryonic matter that we're all familiar with plays a greater role in black holes than more exotic forms of matter. 

Riccardo Lanfranchi
During the first observation the X-ray emission can be fully described by emission from a standard accretion disc.
Riccardo Lanfranchi
During the second observation the appearance of a jet is detected in radio emission and the X-ray spectrum requires an additional component attributed to coronal emission above the disc and three narrow emission lines indicating the presence of baryons.

Astronomers have taken an unprecedented look at the superenergetic jets blasted out by black holes, and thus have answered a key question about the composition of these mysterious beams.

Scientists found evidence of nickel and iron in the jets emitted by a relatively small black hole, suggesting that "normal" matter plays a bigger role in these enigmatic structures than does exotic antimatter.

"We've known for a long time that jets contain electrons but haven't got an overall negative charge, so there must be something positively charged in them, too," study co-author James Miller-Jones, from the Curtin University node of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research in Australia, said in a statement. [Images: Black Holes of the Universe]

"Until now, it wasn't clear whether the positive charge came from positrons, the antimatter 'opposite' of electrons, or positively charged atoms," Miller-Jones added. "Since our results found nickel and iron in these jets, we now know ordinary matter must be providing the positive charge."

The researchers took the measure of 4U1630-47, a black-hole candidate just a few times more massive than the sun. They studied the object's X-ray emissions using the the European Space Agency's XMM-Newton satellite and analyzed the black hole in radio wavelengths using the Australia Telescope Compact Array system.

The radio observations keyed the team in to the sudden appearance of the jets, while XMM-Newton's data revealed emission lines in the jets' X-ray spectrum corresponding to iron and nickel. Further, these lines were shifted significantly, much as the sound from a siren changes pitch when a fire truck or ambulance approaches and then passes an observer, researchers said.

"It led us to conclude the particles were being accelerated to fast speeds in the jets — one directed towards Earth, and the other one in the opposite direction," co-author Simone Migliari, of the University of Barcelona, said in a statement.

The team calculated the mind-blowing velocity of the narrowly focused jets to be about 66 percent of the speed of light, or 440 million mph (708 million km/h).

Because positively charged atoms are much heavier than positrons, the jets are likely carrying a great deal more energy away from the black hole than previous studies had been able to confirm, researchers said.

The new findings also could help answer another long-standing mystery about black-hole jets: the location from which they are launched. Some astronomers think jets are powered by the spin of their host black holes, while others posit that they spring from the disk of material that surrounds and feeds these light-gobbling monsters.

"Our results suggest it's more likely the disk is responsible for channelling the matter into the jets, and we are planning further observations to try and confirm this," Miller-Jones said.

Follow Mike Wall on Twitter @michaeldwall and Google+. Follow us @SpacedotcomFacebook or Google+. Originally published on SPACE.com.

Copyright 2013 SPACE.com, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to What are black holes made of? Scientists closing in on answer.
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today