Astronomers see a big boom when a black hole’s magnetic field suddenly flips

Two hundred and thirty-six million light-years away, and therefore 236 million years ago, a strange and intense light burst from a distant astronomical object. The intergalactic rumble was detected here on Earth, where astronomers quickly found the flare was coming from a supermassive black hole. A spontaneous reversal of the black hole’s magnetic poles could be the cause, according to the latest hypothesis, but the debate is far from settled.

Simply called 1ES 1927+654, the galaxy causing a stir is orbiting a supermassive black hole millions or billions of times more massive than our sun. This is true of most large galaxies, including our own, the Milky Way, which has its own supermassive black hole at its center and around which the galaxy’s solar systems revolve. Black holes have staggering masses, which causes space and time to be distorted around them. Light itself cannot escape the intense gravitational pull beyond a point of no return called the event horizon, making direct observation virtually impossible. What astronomers can “observe” are the emissions of various forms of radiation, including visible light from the surrounding accretion disks of black holes, as well as the gravitational waves they might emit.

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A ball of superheated gas particles, known as the corona, has been identified as the source of the violent eruption of ultraviolet and visible light. Located in the black hole’s accretion disk – the assortment of normal matter that rapidly orbits black holes on the safe side of the event horizon – the corona would emit higher-energy X-ray particles under normal circumstances. . As the rare event unfolded from 2017 to 2021, the black hole’s X-rays disappeared completely while UV and visible light emissions reached levels astronomically higher than they normally would.

A reversal of magnetic fields, in which the north pole becomes the south pole and vice versa, is believed to be relatively common in the universe. Earth’s magnetic fields reverse about every million years, although these events are completely unpredictable.

“Rapid changes in visible and ultraviolet light have been observed in a few dozen galaxies similar to this one,” Dr. Sibasish Laha said in a NASA press release. “But this event marks the first time we’ve seen X-rays completely fade away as other wavelengths brighten.”

Understanding why has been a point of contention ever since. A researcher at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Laha, and an international team of experts offer a possible explanation. They linked the unusual accretion disk changes to a magnetic reversal in a paper recently accepted into The Astrophysical Journal. Another study author, Dr. Mitchell Begeleman, explained the rationale behind their conclusion.

“A magnetic reversal, where the north pole becomes south and vice versa, seems to fit observations better,” Begelman said in the press release. “The field initially weakens at the periphery of the accretion disk, causing greater heating and brightening in visible and UV light.”

Such a reversal of magnetic fields, in which the north pole becomes the south pole and vice versa, is believed to be relatively common in the universe. Earth’s magnetic fields reverse about every million years, although these events are completely unpredictable.

In the ever-expanding cosmos, few celestial bodies escape our understanding as completely as black holes. We know that black holes have angular momentum, mass, and charge, but it’s unclear if other properties are discernible. Physicist Stephen Hawking has held a decades-long bet with a duo of physicists on whether or not black holes could leak further information regarding their inner workings. In other words, the details of how a black hole’s internal magnetic field might flip are difficult to understand due to the lack of physical evidence available to predict how such an event would play out inside a black hole. black hole. Their properties often confuse scientists, lending intrigue to depictions in popular culture and the media.

An alert from the All-Sky Automated Survey for Supernovae in March 2018 led to the discovery of this latest black hole oddity. Visible light 100 times brighter than normal from the distant galaxy warranted closer examination. Earlier data from the NASA-funded asteroid Earth-impacting Last Warning system showed that the sea change had begun in late 2017. Rapidly forming on the galaxy, satellites soon revealed the origin of the eruption at the center of the Galaxy.

The cause of the disturbance prompted a myriad of conclusions. A working hypothesis suggested that a star might have drifted too close to the black hole.


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“An earlier interpretation of the flare suggested it was triggered by a star passing so close to the black hole that it tore apart, disrupting the flow of gas,” said co-author Dr Josefa Becerra González, adding that the length of the event does not match this previous conclusion.

As far-fetched as it may sound, scientists don’t just spit wildly. (Indeed, it wouldn’t be the first time a star has passed a black hole’s point of no return.) Yet while the referenced 2019 paper predates the return to homeostasis in the galaxy far, new discoveries have benefited from a wider range of available data. The data. NASA’s Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory and ESA’s (European Space Agency) XMM-Newton satellite provided extensive data to support a new analysis of UV and X-ray frequencies from the source of the disturbance, who supported the magnetic field shift theory.

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