Research: Spinning black hole sprays light-speed plasma clouds into space

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Think of the black hole in V404 Cygni as a big, light consuming Beyblade that's starting to run out of juice. "While jets are usually seen moving away in opposite directions from a feeding black hole, it is rare to see the jet direction changing over time, particularly on such short timescales".

"This is one of the most extraordinary black hole systems I've ever come across", James Miller-Jones, an author of the study from the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research, said in a statement.

The group of astronomers, which studied the black hole's jet activity, published their findings in the journal Nature on April 29. Astronomers have seen black hole jets before but have never seen jets that wobble as rapidly as those from V404 Cygni, which were observed oscillating over time periods of only a few minutes. But something - probably a kick from the supernova that first formed V404 Cygni - pushed the black hole and the disk out of alignment. "This appears to be causing the inner part of the disc to wobble like a spinning top and fire jets out in different directions as it changes orientation".

Scientists first discovered Cygni in 1989, when it released a massive outburst of jets and radiation, according to ICRAR.

Astronomers looking at archival photographic plates then found previous outbursts in observations from 1938 and 1956.

V404 Cygni caught the attention of astronomers around the world when it unleashed another bright outburst that lasted for two weeks in 2015. "Astronomers across the globe trained their telescopes on it, providing intensive observational coverage of a black hole feeding close to its maximum possible rate", he said. As a result of the way black holes normally spin, the matter tends to spray out in the same direction.

And they were changing direction very quickly - over no more than a couple of hours. As it spins, a rotating black hole's gravitational field is so intense that it essentially drags spacetime with it.

The frame-dragging effect seems to arise because the black hole's spin axis is misaligned with the plane of the black hole's orbit with its binary companion.

For scale, the black hole is nine times more massive than our sun and V404 Cygni's disk is 10 million kilometers across.

This "wobble" is supposed to be a steady stream of ejected material but in this case, the black hole is spitting out interjected blobs of plasma.

"This is the only mechanism we can think of that can explain the rapid precession we see in V404 Cygni", Miller-Jones said in the press release.

"You can think of it like the wobble of a spinning top as it slows down - only in this case, the wobble is caused by Einstein's theory of general relativity".

Since the V404 Cygni black hole didn't follow the same rules as conventional blackholes, the ICRAR team has to combine 103 images of the black hole, each around 70 seconds long, in order to observe the phenomenon.

Co-author Alex Tetarenko - a recent PhD graduate from the University of Alberta and now an East Asian Observatory Fellow working in Hawaii - said the speed the jets were changing direction meant the scientists had to use a very different approach to most radio observations.

We were gobsmacked by what we saw in this system - it was completely unexpected.

A black hole nearly 8,000 light years away from Earth has caught the eye of astronomers, due to its wobbly nature.

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