Powerhouse Black Hole Blows a Huge Bubble


A relatively small black hole is producing tremendously powerful jets while creating a huge bubble of hot gas. Both the jets and the bubble are the largest ever seen, meaning this mini black hole is a powerhouse. But the most unusual feature of this remarkable black hole is not its energy output, but how it is emitting energy.

“The energy output is impressive, but is comparable with the X-ray luminosity of so-called Ultraluminous X-ray sources,” said Manfred Pakull, the lead author of a new paper published today in Nature. “The notion that powerhouses exist that generate most of their energy in the form of jets (kinetic energy) and not as radiation (photons) is rather new.”

Black holes are known to release an incredible amount of energy when they swallow matter, and as Pakull told Universe Today, it was previously thought that most of the energy came out in the form of radiation, predominantly X-rays. But this new gas-blowing black hole, called S26, is showing that some black holes can release at least as much energy, and perhaps much more, in the form of collimated jets of fast moving particles.

“This black hole is just a few solar masses, but is a real miniature version of the most powerful quasars and radio galaxies,” said Pakull, “which contain black holes with masses of a few million times that of the Sun.”

This object is a microquasar, which are formed by two objects — either a white dwarf, neutron star or a black hole, along with a companion star. The X-rays are produced by matter falling from one component to the other, and can produce jets of high-speed particles. The fast jets slam into the surrounding interstellar gas, heating it and triggering an expanding bubble made of hot gas and ultra-fast particles colliding at different temperatures.

Of the dozen or so microquasars that have been found in the Milky Way Galaxy, most of the bubbles are fairly small, – less than 10 light-years across. But this one is 1,000 light-years wide. Plus this microquasar is tens of times more powerful than ones previously seen.

Using ESO’s Very Large Telescope and NASA’s Chandra X-ray telescope Pakull and his team were able to observe the areas where the jets smash into the interstellar gas around the black hole, and saw that the bubble of hot gas is inflating at a speed of almost one million kilometers per hour.

The jets are equally impressive, about 300 parsecs long, and although powerful jets have been seen from supermassive black holes, they were thought to be less frequent in the smaller microquasar variety. This new discovery may have astronomers looking more closely at other microquasars.

“The length of the jets in NGC 7793 is amazing, compared to the size of the black hole from which they are launched,” said co-author Robert Soria. “If the black hole were shrunk to the size of a soccer ball, each jet would extend from the Earth to beyond the orbit of Pluto.”

S26 is located 12 million light-years away, in the outskirts of the spiral galaxy NGC 7793. From the size and expansion velocity of the bubble the astronomers have found that the jet activity must have been ongoing for at least 200,000 years.

With all this incredible speed, size and activity, what do Pakull and his team project as the future of this microquasar?

“Yes, the expansion velocity (275 km/s) is quite impressive, but it will diminish with time,” Pakull told Universe Today. “If it was much lower at, say, 70 km/s the shocked gas would not emit so much optical light (for example the Balmer series of Hydrogen) and we would not have detected the bubble. The future of S26 depends on the evolution of the central microquasar which emits the jets. I expect that it could be active for another 100,000 to few million years.”

Pakull said it is interesting to imagine what would happen if the microqusar suddenly stopped emitting the jets. “Then the bubble would not suddenly disappear, but shine on like before for another few 100,000 years,” he said. “It would resemble a supernova remnant, albeit with a 100 times higher energy content.”

Pakull added that this new finding will help astronomers understand the similarity between small black holes formed from exploded stars and the supermassive black holes at the centers of galaxies, and he hopes this work will stimulate more theoretical work in how black holes produce energy.

Read the team’s paper (pdf file)

Sources: ESO, email exchange with Manfred Pakull.

21 Replies to “Powerhouse Black Hole Blows a Huge Bubble”

  1. “The energy output is impressive, but is comparable with the X-ray luminosity of so-called Ultraluminous X-ray sources”

    Can we say that at least some of the ULXs we see are not intermediate-mass black holes, but are objects just like S26?

  2. Okay, it can blow a bubble, but if it starts cracking its gum we’ll have to confiscate it.

  3. As a layman not really into jets (well, duh), I would think that the thermal (non-relativistic electron) output is more natural. And indeed the paper (thanks IAL!) claims the object is a patch between several prior classes of objects.

    Hopefully someone will jet to a fully predictive theory of jets any day now.

  4. I am not much of a jet guy either. This is strange though. The jet is produced by a charge separation of protons and electrons in an accretion disk and the action of a magnetic field. With the acceleration of these charged particles along the poles X-rays are produced by Brehmstrahlung as the magnetic field induces a spiral acceleration of the charged particles long the field lines. Yet for some reason this process appears suppressed in this case. So the energy of the jet apparently remains in a kinetic form. This is rather odd in a way.


  5. Black Holes are amazing they can do anything we ask of them!!!

    “Pakull and his team were able to observe the areas where the jets smash into the interstellar gas around the black hole, and saw that the bubble of hot gas is inflating at a speed of almost one million kilometers per hour.”

    Interstellar “gas”? how dense?

    Maybe we could call it a tenuous plasma?? would it explain it alot better!

  6. LBC, yes it was somewhat along those lines what I was thinking. Thanks for the comprehensive model to discuss around.

    Here we have an example where it seems we see the protons and other nuclei in the accretion matter contribute, as they should, when some suppression is taken away. I’m happy to see this “patch” form if it makes the physics one step earlier easier to comprehend.

  7. @ sol88:

    Huh? First, the observations shows that BHs participates in very specific and intricate processes. Quite the opposite to “anything” and “we ask of them”. (How? _Why?_)

    Second, astronomers call it a gas when it is the gas dynamics that matters. And here the post is explicit in mentioning “kinetic energy”. Plasma isn’t helpful in their model.

    You are welcome to study an alternative model of course. (But why bother if it is removed from a natural one?)

  8. more proof to believe that black holes are fractally self-similar hierarchical sizes are irrevelant from atomic, stellar, galactic… here there is a link between a quantum effect black hole, a star, supernova, microquasar, and galaxy. they are saying that smaller sized black holes have more kinetic heat energy then larger ones already discovered. do quantum space distances have higher temp increases because of smaller hotter mini-black holes blowing out particles and having temperatures inverse to their mass?

  9. “If the black hole were shrunk to the size of a soccer ball, each jet would extend from the Earth to beyond the orbit of Pluto.”
    Who doesn’t find this anything short of INCREDIBLE!

  10. @Sol88

    Could perhaps the use of the word ‘Gas’ in the article actually be more appropriate than for example the words ‘Fairy’ or ‘Magic’ ? Sheesh…

  11. jimhenson, In a round about way you are correct. The smaller a black hole the higher its horizon temperature, but also the lower its entropy. Black holes turn some aspects of thermodynamics upside down. The effective heat capacity of spacetime is negative.

    As for the self-similar and fractal ideas, that does touch on the matter of renormalization group flows and some moduli space issues. However, I am not going there in this blog post. 🙂 . This issue does not have the sort of content you seem to write about.


  12. Maybe Hawking radiation is not emitted by a black hole, and won’t be discovered? superheated matter might never cross the event horizon, because the accretion disk blows out these huge gas bubbles as kinetic thermal energy? Then we wouldn’t need spoofy virtual particles popping into empty space all the time. Nothing would enter nor escape a black hole if Zero degree kelvin Temp for black holes is related to mass and the Ads/CFT using quantum field theory was scale invariant with consistent units like size, mass, and temp?

  13. For a large astrophysical black hole of several solar masses Hawking radiation is negligible. The temperature of a black hole only becomes equal to the CMB temperature ~ 2.7K if its mass is equal to the moon, and the BH is less than one mm in diameter.

    The issue of black hole radiation might have an empirical content in high energy physics. The RHIC (relativistic high-energy ion collider) at Brookhaven has found some evidence of channels or quantum amplitudes which have black hole-like content. The LHC may detect some of the same, and in the 2020-30 time frame it is planned to be converted into an ion collider. These amplitudes are not black holes as such, but they are quantum field processes with very small AdS-black hole amplitudes. They of course rapidly decay, instead of the silly fears over the LHC generating a planet eating black hole. This does connect again with renormalization group flows that are logarithmic in the energy scale. For this reason a TeV energy or transverse momentum in a process can have a measurable amplitude, even though it is 13 or 16 orders of magnitude lower than the string energy (Hagedorn temperature), or the Planck scale respectively

    This is only a cursory view of the physics here, for a more complete understanding requires some extensive discussion of renormalization theory and density of states calculations with strings.


  14. Is the Schwarzschild radius Rg = 2 GM / c2 ? Does this equation show doubling the mass will double the radius? would doubling the radius quadruple the luminoisity? Logarithmic energy scales must include temp, luminoisity, mass, density, pressure schw radius to find create an mathematical equation that might explain why a phonon black hole of sound waves is different then a galactic supermassive black hole?

  15. jimhenson: I decided for some reason to look at the second page. Genreally as these fall onto page 2 I tend not to comment.

    You are correct with the r = 2GM/c^2 statement that the black hole radius grows linearly with mass. The radiation emitted by a black hole is inversely proportional to the mass T ~ 1/M, with constants ot proportionality that make this temperature very small for a stellar mass black hole and large.


  16. if T = h c^3 / 8 # k G M then as Mass inversely decreases, the Temp ~ increases? the evaporation time is proportional to the cube of the mass. if the square of two different masses of collision are added together, then the square root of this ending mass is less then the normal combined masses. for example, 4 + 3 = 7 so 16 + 9 = 25^-2 = 5. hawking radiation prevails only in mini-black hole sizes?

  17. S = A k c^3 / 4 h G is the entropy of a black hole. A is the area which is much larger then the schwarzschild radius. A = (4 pi) r2 = 16 pi G^2 m^2/c^4
    The evaporation time is proportional to the cube of the mass. The hotter and tinier it becomes, the faster the rate increase until it explodes and mysteriously vanishes in a mini-big bang? 3 parameters fully describe a black hole, Mass, electrical charge, and angular momentum. But how can they explain SMBH being as big as the solar system? Does the light inside stay confined to the event horizon because the black hole is a perfect vacuum moving at the speed of light? Anything beyond the event horizon becomes unobservable, but what if it is a huge perfect vacuum of empty space that expands radially when space temp cools gaining mass feeding when not emitting much radiation, and contracting when space is heated up making it disipate radiation as mass?

  18. It appears you have looked up some of the relevant formulae. I probably will not keep revisiting page 3 here. However an object that falls towards a black hole is observed to slow down and become frozen above the horizon. Hawking radiation is due to the quantum fields that entered the black hole. If you think about it this means you can observe quantum fields which make up a black hole in two configurations at the same time. This leads to the holographic principle.


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