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Astronomers witness "one of the most extraordinary systems of black holes"



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The black hole, known as V404 Cygni, does not behave like the others. The jets fire possibly within minutes of each other and in all different directions. And while researchers admit that black holes are some of the most extreme objects in the universe, they are different.

"This is one of the most extraordinary black hole systems I have ever seen," said study author James Miller-Jones in a statement. Miller-Jones is also an Associate Professor at the International Center for Radio Astronomy Research at Curtin University.
The study published Monday in the journal Nature.

"Like many black holes, it is feeding on a nearby star, pulling the gas away from the star and forming a disk of material that circles the black hole and spirals toward it under gravity," he said. "What's different about the V404 Cygni is that we think the material disc and the black hole are misaligned. This seems to be causing the inner part of the disc to rock like a top and shoot in different directions as it changes direction."

The black hole was discovered in 1989 because it launched jets and radiation. Previous explosions associated with this black hole were noted in 1938 and 1956 and found on photographic filing plates.

V404 Cygni caught the attention of astronomers around the world when it triggered another brilliant blast that lasted two weeks in 2015. Telescopes everywhere trained at the event, which led to a wealth of observational data.

Usually, the jets leave the poles of the black holes. These jets were firing in different directions at different rates over a few hours.

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The black hole itself is spinning and the gravitational pull is so strong that it's actually pulling space and time close to it. This is called dragging frames.

The material of the jets is expelled from the black hole rotary extra disk. The disc forms when the material of a nearby star is pulled into a circle around the black hole.

For scaling, the black hole is nine times more massive than our sun and the Cygni V404 disc is 10 million kilometers in diameter. The jets emit material at 60% of the speed of light.

As the axis of rotation of the black hole is misaligned, the frame traversing also distorts part of the disk, causing an intense oscillation that is responsible for the firing of the jets in different directions.

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"This is the only mechanism we can think of that can explain the rapid precession we see in V404 Cygni," said Miller-Jones. "You can think of it as the oscillation of a spinning top while it diminishes, but in this case, the oscillation is caused by Einstein's general theory of relativity."

The researchers had to use a different technique to capture what was happening in the black hole. Usually, they use long exposures.

"These jets were changing so fast that in a four-hour image we saw only a blur," Alex Tetarenko said in a statement, another of the study's authors and the East Asian Observatory.

Instead, individual 70-second exposures were combined to make a movie of the action that astronomers were witnessing.

"We were shocked by what we saw in this system – it was completely unexpected," Greg Sivakoff said in a statement, study author and associate professor in the physics department at the University of Alberta. "Finding this first astronomical one deepened our understanding of how black holes and galaxy formation can work." This tells us a bit more about this great question: "How did we get here?"
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