Black Holes Are Surrounded by Extremely Strong Interstellar Winds

Tuesday, 23 January 2018 - 8:13PM
Astronomy
Black Holes
Tuesday, 23 January 2018 - 8:13PM
Black Holes Are Surrounded by Extremely Strong Interstellar Winds
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NASA/Swift/A. Simonnet, Sonoma State University

Everything we knew about black holes could be wrong. Okay, not everything. But there may be a chance, according to new research, that these giant gravity wells might not actually consume as much matter as we've previously thought.

According to a study from the University of Alberta, rather than simply gobbling up everything that comes into their path, black holes may work more like enormous hurricanes, with fantastically powerful solar wind swirling around them that churns up and spits out the majority of matter and energy that happens to get too close. 

According to lead author Bailey Tetarenko:

Opening quote
"Winds must blow away a large fraction of the matter a black hole could eat. In one of our models, the winds removed 80 per cent of the black hole's potential meal."
Closing quote


This conclusion was reached based on a deep analysis of 20 years of compiled data relating to black holes and all the mass they consume. It would make a certain amount of sense, considering that we already understand that information swirls around a black hole for millennia before actually making it down the interstellar plughole.

If the force of these winds were great enough, it would stand to reason that a lot of this trapped debris could get pushed back out of the black hole's path again.



There is even something of a precedent for matter escaping from a black hole - astronomers have found evidence that black holes regularly "burp" up huge swathes of cosmic gas and dust that manage to break free from the gravitation pull of these giant suckers. Certainly, it seems that black holes aren't quite as nihilistically inescapable as we'd previously thought.

The only problem with this new research is that it's not clear where exactly all of this wind is coming from. It's possible to track the effects of black hole wind in models based on existing data, but thus far we're not certain how such wind forms in the first place. Paper co-author Craig Heinke said the following:

Opening quote
"We think magnetic fields play a key role. But we'll need to do a great deal of future investigation to understand these winds."
Closing quote


From the sound of it, there's plenty more that needs to be clarified about this new "black hole wind theory" before we can completely understand what's going on. Further research will be required, both in the form of further analysis of old data, and in newly undertaken analysis of distant black holes.

The nice thing about current interstellar investigation is that we now have access to new data provided from recording gravitational waves, and new telescopes that are in development will be able to provide us with even an clearer picture of what's going on in distant star systems.

Before long, we may learn even more intriguing things about black holes and how they operate. It's going to be exciting figuring out what else we've been wrong about for all these years.

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