Long-standing questions about jets from black holes answered

One thing everyone knows about black holes is that everything nearby gets sucked into them.

Almost Everything, it turns out.

„Although black holes are defined as objects from which nothing can escape, one of the surprising predictions of Einstein’s theory of relativity is that black holes actually lose energy,” says the astrophysicist. Eliot QuarteredPrinceton Charles A. Young Professor of Astronomy In the Class of 1897 Foundation. „They can spin, and just as a spinning top slows down over time and loses that energy in its rotation, a spinning black hole can lose energy to its surroundings.”

Scientists have widely accepted this model since the 1970s. They knew that magnetic fields extract energy from spinning black holes—they just didn’t know how.

A team of Princeton astrophysicists has now determined that the energy near the event horizon of black hole M87* is pushing outward, not inward. (M87 is the name of the galaxy, Messier 87, so the black hole at its center is called M87*.) The researchers also developed a way to test the prediction that black holes lose rotational energy, Quataert said. That energy „sees incredibly powerful outflows that we call jets.”

He said these energy-emitting jets are „basically like million-light-year-long Jedi lightsabers.” Former Princeton postdoc Alexandru Lupchaska, and they can stretch as far as 10 times the length of the Milky Way galaxy.

The Results Their work appears in the current issue The Astrophysical Journal. Andrew Sale, Associate Research Scholar in Astrophysics, is the first author of the paper. He and co-author George Wong are both members Event Horizon Telescope Played a key role in developing the models used to explain the group and black holes. Chael, Wong, Lupsasca, and Quataert have all joined the theorists Princeton Gravity Initiative.

The team credited Sale with a key insight at the heart of the new paper: The direction in which magnetic field lines spin reveals the direction of energy flow. From there, „the rest fell into place,” Quartert said.

„If you took the Earth, turned it all into TNT, and blew it 1,000 times a second for millions and millions of years, that’s the amount of energy we’d get out of M87,” he said. WongAn associate research scholar with the Princeton Gravity Initiative and A member Institute for Advanced Study.

Scientists have known for decades that when a black hole starts spinning, it drags spacetime along. The magnetic field lines that pull through the black hole are dragged, slowing down the rotation and leading to the release of energy.

„Our new, sharp prediction is that whenever you look at an astrophysical black hole that has magnetic field lines attached to it, there’s energy transfer — really crazy energy transfer,” said Lupchaska, a former associate research scientist. Princeton, who is now an assistant professor of physics and mathematics at Vanderbilt University, won 2024 New Horizons Prize in Physics from the Breakthrough Prize Foundation for his black hole research.



3D supercomputer simulation of a black hole


A simple black hole model.

To test the connection between black hole images and the flow of energy around black holes, the team used two simple models: a glowing ring (left) and full 3D supercomputer simulations (right). By checking the correlation between the polarization spin in the images in both cases, they established that this could be used with real images of black holes from the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) to test whether magnetic fields extract energy. A black hole spins down.


3D supercomputer simulation of M87*

At the same time Energy flow near the event horizon of M87* Streaming outward, the team said, the flow of energy could theoretically flow inward into another black hole. They are confident in the connection between energy flow and the direction of magnetic field lines and their projection Energy flows from the black hole Tested by still-theoretical publication „The next generation” Event Horizon Telescope.

For the past year and a half, black hole researchers around the world have been proposing specifications for the future instrument, Wong said. „Papers like ours will play an important role in determining what we need. I think it’s an incredibly exciting time.

The four researchers emphasized in their paper that they had not shown conclusively that the black hole’s spin „truly drives the extragalactic jet.” Although the energy levels their model showed were consistent with what jets would need, they could not rule out the possibility that a jet could be powered. Circulating plasma outside black hole „I think it’s very possible for a black hole to drive a jet, but we can’t prove it,” Lupchaska said. „Still.”

Signature of electromagnetic energy extraction in polarized black hole films,” Andrew Sale, Alexandru Lupchaska, George N. Wong and Elliott Quartered in the current issue of The Astrophysical Journal (DOI: 10.3847/1538-4357/acf92d). This research was supported by the Princeton Gravity Initiative, a Taplin Fellowship, the National Science Foundation (grant 2307888), and a Simons Foundation Investigator Award.

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