If you happened to be falling into a black hole, the last thing on your mind will likely be how pretty the view is. But in this NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day, some idea about the dynamic swirl of awesome energy just outside a black hole’s event horizon (or is that an apparent horizon?) has been created in a computer simulation meaning we can enjoy the physics prettiness from a very safe distance.
This simulation, created by the NASA Chandra X-ray Observatory team, shows the detail of matter spinning into a stellar mass black hole. The matter, which has collected in a hot accretion disk, falls toward the black hole’s event horizon — the distance at which the black hole’s spacetime warping is so intense that even light cannot escape. Some of the matter passes through the horizon, adding to the black hole’s bulk, but the rest is redirected via intense magnetic fields, ejecting it from the poles at relativistic speeds.
As seen in the simulation, the polar jets can be seen being ejected from the black hole’s spin axis. Missions such as Chandra are able to observe these jets as they generate powerful X-ray radiation. Radio wave signatures can also be observed, aiding our understanding of how these energetic beasts work.
As noted by NASA, by studying the radiation generated by black hole GRO J1655-40, an unusual flickering at a rate of 450 times a second has been detected. This flickering has been attributed to the rapid spin of the black hole, which is estimated to be 7 times the mass of our sun. The mechanisms behind the flickering are the focus of intense research, but it seems likely that we won’t fully understand the black hole accretion disk interplay until we can directly image the black hole’s event horizon, a feat that may be possible in the not-so-distant future.