Black Holes Spewing Out Matter?

It’s an interesting time for astrophysicists, as so many new objects and phenomena keep popping up in their telescopes and observatories.

As an illustration, a new study shows two peculiar compact objects, possibly black holes, defying certain limits that astrophysicists have accepted for a long time now—namely, the rate at which they consume their hapless companion stars.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge were astonished when the data they gathered from the European Space Agency (ESA) pointed to two compact objects 22 million light-years away that are devouring their companion stars with gluttonous abandon, but most remarkable is that they’re spewing matter out at the same time at speeds of 70,000 km/s (43,500 mi/s).

That’s a quarter of the speed of light—and it’s the first time astronomers have seen this happen.

High-speed winds wafting from a compact X-ray source (in this case a black hole). Credit: C. Carreau, ESA

Breaking the Limit

Experts assert that black holes and other highly dense, compact bodies greedily suck in matter—particularly stars—and in the process of doing so an accretion disc forms around the object, which through frictional heating reaches intense temperatures and emits light at various wavelengths.

One of the unclear cases in these emissions is the existence of ultra-luminous X-rays, which are believed to emanate from supermassive black holes.

This study shows clear evidence that these two objects, possibly black holes or neutron stars, are also sources of these mysterious X-rays—generating them as they are being absorbed inwards, but also streamed outwards, appearing brighter than usual.

That’s very strange for black holes.

This defies the known Eddington limit, which dictates that a given mass can only absorb matter equally as it emits radiation.

The cause? Researchers say that the gases being absorbed at incredible rates by these great masses build up too much radiation pressure as they heat up faster and faster in the disc forming around these objects, even to a point of trapping the radiation before being driven out. The result is the high-velocity winds which, astronomers conjecture, surround the compact objects.

Furthermore, they say that the data on this newly discovered phenomenon might lead to understanding what really happens at the enigmatic cores of these objects.

The study is published in the journal Nature.


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