Astronomers overcome black hole jet lag

Posted by pt91 at Sep 23, 2011 03:47 PM |
The rapid variations in the flaring jet from a black hole have been observed for the first time using a telescope that monitors at short timescales.
Astronomers overcome black hole jet lag

Credit: NASA

It was a chance encounter between Poshak Gandhi of the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency and our Professor Andrew Blain of the Department of Physics and Astronomy, that led to NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) being employed to watch the jet of material from the black hole GX 339-4.

The results surprised the team, showing huge and erratic fluctuations in the jet activity on timescales ranging from 11 seconds to a few hours. This type of variability in jets has never been seen with this kind of precision before. WISE had not just one, but four infrared cameras, allowing astronomers to determine changes in infrared light in real time and spot these relatively short variations that would be missed by other satellites.

But this unique phenomenon would never have been spotted if Professor Blain had not visited Japan on an exchange program with the University of Nagoya. Although Poshak had suspicions that the black hole jet varied on small timescales it was only through discussions with Professor Blain that they realised that WISE was suited to the job.