Radio Galaxy With Black Hole Has ‘Fierce Electrical Thunderstorm’ Raging In Its Depths

We know black holes are dangerous to people and galactic objects alike due to their immense gravity. But it turns out the galaxies that host supermassive black holes also have stormy interiors, at least according to one new study.

Scientists have found gamma-ray euptions emerging from the center of the IC 310 radio galaxy in Perseus — the strongest such variations in brightness ever found, they say — which they are comparing to a lightning storm.

It’s common for changes in brightness to happen in these galaxies as falling matter plunges into the black hole. The radio galaxies also produce jets that shoot matter away from the center at close to the speed of light.

Artist rendering of a supermassive black hole. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech.

What baffles researchers for IC 310 is how quickly they saw brightness shifts– on the order of five minutes, which is odd considering that the black hole’s event horizon (the point where there’s no way you’ll get out of there) requires 25 minutes to go across. This means the lightning is likely coming from a region that is smaller than the event horizon itself.

“We believe that in the black hole’s polar regions there are huge electric fields, which are able to accelerate fundamental particles at relativist speeds,” stated study leader Eduardo Ros, a researcher from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy and the Universitat de València.

“When they interact with others of lower energy, [they] are able to produce highly energized gamma rays,” he added. “We can imagine this process as a fierce electrical thunderstorm.”

Results of the study were published in the journal Science. Observatories participating included the Major Atmospheric Gamma-ray Imaging Cherenkov Telescopes (MAGIC) at La Palma in the Canary Islands, and the European Very Large Baseline Interferometer Network.

Source: Valencian Universities Network for the Promotion of Research, Development and Innovation (RUVID)

Elizabeth Howell

Elizabeth Howell is the senior writer at Universe Today. She also works for Space.com, Space Exploration Network, the NASA Lunar Science Institute, NASA Astrobiology Magazine and LiveScience, among others. Career highlights include watching three shuttle launches, and going on a two-week simulated Mars expedition in rural Utah. You can follow her on Twitter @howellspace or contact her at her website.

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