Rapid Changes Detected in a Black Hole May Explain Origin of the Most Energetic Radiation in the Universe

Black Hole Animation Concept

Scientists from the University of Valencia detect rapid changes in a black hole that may help understand the origin of gamma-ray bursts.

A team from the Astronomical Observatory of the University of Valencia has managed to observe the black hole of the active galaxy PKS1830-211 right during the most violent gamma-ray energy event ever registered in that source. Scientists have discovered very rapid changes in the structure of its magnetic field that confirm the predictions of the main models of gamma-ray production in black holes. The phenomenon, observed through the ALMA telescope, contributes new data to the study on the origin of the most energetic radiation in the Universe.

Some of the most massive and distant black holes in the Universe emit an enormous amount of extraordinarily energetic radiation, called ‘gamma rays.’ This type of radiation occurs, for example, when mass is converted into energy during fission reactions that run nuclear reactors on Earth. But in the case of black holes, gamma radiation is even more energetic than that obtained in nuclear reactors and is produced by very different processes; there, the gamma rays are created by collisions between light rays and highly energetic particles, born in the vicinity of black holes by means of mechanisms still poorly understood.

As a result of these collisions between light and matter, the energetic particles give almost all their momentum to the light rays and turn them into the gamma radiation that ends up reaching Earth.

The astronomical scientific community suspects that these collisions occur in regions permeated by powerful magnetic fields subjected to highly variable processes, such as turbulence and magnetic reconnections – magnetic fields that fuse together releasing an astonishing amount of energy – that could be occurring in the jets of matter expelled by black holes. But probing these magnetic fields so far from Earth – some of these black holes are billions of light-years away – requires a very sensitive instrumentation and to find the exact moment when the emission of high energy takes place.

This is precisely what the research team led by Iván Martí-Vidal, CIDEGENT researcher of the Valencian Government at the Astronomical Observatory and the Department of Astronomy of the University of Valencia, and main author of this work, has achieved. This team has used ALMA (Atacama Large Millimetre Array), the most sensitive telescope in the World at millimeter wavelengths, to obtain precise information about the magnetic fields of a distant black hole, in a moment when energetic particles were producing an enormous amount of gamma radiation.

In a recently published article in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics, the scientists report observations of the black hole called PKS1830-211, located more than ten billion light-years from Earth. These observations demonstrate that the magnetic fields in the region where the most energetic particles of the black-hole’s jet are produced were changing their structure notably in a time interval of only a few minutes. “This implies that magnetic processes are originating in very small and turbulent regions, just as the main models of gamma-ray production in black holes predict, which relate turbulence to gamma radiation,” explains Iván Martí-Vidal. “On the other hand, the changes that we have detected took place during a very powerful gamma-ray episode, which allows us to robustly relate them to the high-energy emission. All this brings us a little closer to understanding the origin of the most energetic radiation in the Universe,” he adds.

Black Hole Polarization

Animation showing the change in the polarization of one of the images of the black hole (upper part) compared to the other image of the same object (lower part), which is delayed about 27 days with respect to the first one. The time-delayed image corresponds to the black hole before the high-energy burst occurred. Credit: University of Valencia

Interferometry and new algorithms

To analyze this data, the team of Martí-Vidal has used an advanced analysis technique that allows them to obtain information of rapidly changing sources from interferometric observations, such as those obtained with ALMA. “Interferometry gives us the power to observe the Universe with an unparalleled level of detail; in fact, it is the technique on which the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) is also based, which recently obtained the first image of a black hole,” says Martí-Vidal. “A part of our CIDEGENT project is, in fact, dedicated to developing algorithms like the one we have used in these ALMA observations, but applicable to much more complex data such as those from the EHT, which would allow us to reconstruct, in a near future, ‘movies’ of black holes, instead of mere images,” says the astronomer of the University of Valencia.

Alejandro Mus, CIDEGENT predoctoral researcher at the UV Department of Astronomy and a co-author of the article, develops his doctoral thesis in this field. “Within the EHT project, there are many experts from various institutions working against the clock to solve the issue of rapid source variability,” says Mus. “At the moment, the algorithm we have developed works with the ALMA data and has already allowed us to obtain key information about how the magnetic fields associated to PKS1830-211 change at scales of a few tens of minutes. We hope to be able to contribute soon to the EHT with the more sophisticated algorithms in which we are working,” he concludes.

In the study, researchers from the Department of Space, Earth and Environment, Chalmers University of Technology, Onsala Space Observatory (Sweden), the Institute for Astrophysical Research, Boston University (USA) and the Institute of Astrophysics of Andalusia, CSIC (Granada) have collaborated with the University of Valencia.

Reference: “ALMA full polarization observations of PKS 1830−211 during its record-breaking flare of 2019” by I. Marti-Vidal, S. Muller, A. Mus, A. Marscher, I. Agudo and J. L. Gomez, 30 June 2020, Astronomy & Astrophysics.
DOI: 10.1051/0004-6361/202038094

17 Comments on "Rapid Changes Detected in a Black Hole May Explain Origin of the Most Energetic Radiation in the Universe"

  1. “But in the case of black holes, gamma radiation is even more energetic than that obtained in nuclear reactors and is produced by very different processes; there, the gamma rays are created by collisions between light rays and highly energetic particles, born in the vicinity of black holes by means of mechanisms still poorly understood.” If the mechanisms are poorly understood, what is the basis of your assertions about how the gamma radiation is produced?

    To produce gamma rays you need high energy charges and very strong acceleration. This is usually done by using electricity to accelerate electrons to high energies. The universe is electric, no need for imaginary black holes and dark whatevers, the ever handy collisions of this’s and that’s, and countless other speculative imaginings. .

    • Torbjörn Larsson | August 9, 2020 at 4:50 am | Reply

      The universe isn’t “electric” since it is uncharged – as it must be – over large volumes. This is Physics 101.

      If you want a simplistic description, we now know the universe is “gravitic” (general relativistic LCDM cosmology).

      Black holes have been imaged [ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Event_Horizon_Telescope ].

      • “Uncharged?” Are you kidding me. Very dated contention, and certainly not Physics 101. And that imaged black hole is complete nonsense on many many levels, from gathering bias to interpretation bias. And I’d take application of a known and very proven science (to the point of having countless commercial applications), as a possible explanation to cosmic forces over one that has virtually zero grounding in scientific laboratory testing. There is NO arguing that electricity produces gamma rays, absolutely SCIENTIFICALLY proven. Can you say the same about black holes?

      • BTW, even into the 1990’s mainstream cosmology was saying magnetic fields in space couldn’t/didn’t exist (just like you’re saying electricity doesn’t), and certainly didn’t predict that magnetic fields, as has now been shown, are literally woven throughout the universe. What makes magnetic fields? Yup, electricity. Industrial application proven. And sure, we’re all ignorant compared to the vast amount of things there are to know, but closed minded keeps you trapped in ignorance. I believed for years in mainstream cosmology assertions but continued to probe other assertions, and have found the science behind the electric universe much more compelling and well established. Never hurts to play your own skeptic, set aside your beliefs and consider other possibilities.

  2. There’s nothing called the origin of the universe, the universe always was and always will be. Its a circle, we cannot find an origin or an ending. If someone’s trying to find the so called origin, I’d rather call him a madman than a scientist. These so called scientists will never find an origin of the universe, thats the blatant truth.

    • Agree to the extent that these scientists are always trying to stuff literally EVERY observation into the pandora’s box of big bang theory. They’re obsessed with their own creation myth, no matter how distorted they have to make the universe to fit into it. And ALL of mainstream cosmology is literally based on unshakable beliefs in things that are undetectable, ie black holes, dark matter, dark energy, etc etc. Cosmology has become just another faith based religion, not that I have a problem with religion, but just don’t try to be passing it off as science.

      • Torbjörn Larsson | August 9, 2020 at 4:55 am | Reply

        First we can all observe that the current cosmology isn’t a myth or other form of superstitions but a tool that predict and so explain observations. That the universe is by definition covered (“stuffed into”) is not the fault of scientists, it just happen to be that we can do this.

        This too is Physics 101. Try to study it before opening your mouth and show your complete ignorance.

        • Sorry, what you are saying makes little sense. In fact, from what I can tell, you actually seem to be supporting my point.

    • Torbjörn Larsson | August 9, 2020 at 4:51 am | Reply

      They are scientists, despite your so called comment which is besides the topic of the article.

      • Ignorance is a treatable condition but there is no rehab for stupidity. You might as well try to teach a pig to sing: it’s a waste of your time that only irritates the pig.

        • You mean like these scientists not knowing, according to NASA website and countless others, what literally 95 percent of the universe is composed of based on their own admission, so they just label it dark matter and dark energy. Yes, I would call that ignorant when you only have a clue about 5% of your studied subject. Perhaps it’s time for them to re-exam their premise. And btw, someone disagreeing with you does not necessarily indicate that they are ignorant, and is a poor strategy for stating your case, or countering theirs..

  3. Michael lock | August 8, 2020 at 2:17 am | Reply

    Perfect explanation of what happened on earth last april 2019 where 2 waves collision stimulating an energy unknown to scientist no mathematical formula within the air that we breath…

  4. So what your saying to me is the blackhole slowed down however slight and wobbled.and in saying that the friction created by the wobble will produce enough heat and in turn produce enough acceleration to speed the blackhole back to perfection and hence forth the acquired activity will cease to continue.the blackhole is speeding itself back to par. Fascinating stuff

    • Torbjörn Larsson | August 9, 2020 at 4:57 am | Reply

      Not really – see my longer comment for the meat. You can read the paper instead of speculating wildly (though you are interested, which is a good start!).

  5. Still I prefer and read the findings of astrophysicists than the nonsense what you lot try to inform us with.

    • Torbjörn Larsson | August 9, 2020 at 4:58 am | Reply

      “Upvoted” for fact.

      [And the witless are boring in their C&P comments – seen one, seen all.]

  6. Torbjörn Larsson | August 9, 2020 at 4:47 am | Reply

    Progress! The meat is in the conclusion:
    “– The differential electric vector position angle varied at a rate of about 2 degrees per hour during the time span of ∼2 h of our observations.
    – Simultaneously, the relative fractional polarization changed by ∼10%.
    – Our observations thus show significant variations on short timescales on the order of one hour.
    – The changes in polarization properties are consistent with predictions from models of magnetic turbulence in the jet.”

    Magnetic turbulence models are models “for variability of the flux and polarization of blazars in which turbulent plasma flowing at a relativistic speed down a jet crosses a standing conical shock. The shock compresses the plasma and accelerates electrons to energies up to γ_max >~ 10^4 times their rest-mass energy, with the value of γ_max determined by the direction of the magnetic field relative to the shock front.” [ https://ui.adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/2014ApJ…780…87M/abstract ]

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