Two of NASA’s telescopes recently witnessed a never before seen phenomenon. A quasar was spotted exiting a black hole more than five billion light years away, in a region of space known a Sagittarius A*.
It was by sheer luck that the telescopes were pointed at the right region at the right time, and scientists are scrambling to collect as much data as they can. Black holes are gravitational distortions, harnessing such force that not even light can escape its pull.
Witnessing the process and the circumstances surrounding it, are giving scientists and researchers the information to rewrite what we know about black holes.
Little is known about black holes. Their structure is the subject of much debate as we haven’t as of yet been able to experiment with one. We have also only seen one manner of interaction between black holes, them pulling in light and matter. Everything we know about them was based off long range observation and theories. We have never before observed an object coming through a black hole’s corona and breaking the gravitational pull.
Sagittarius A* has been generating a variety of energy flares about every ten days. Over the last year, the frequency has increased to that flares are occurring almost everyday. After the quasar cleared the black hole’s corona, or center, there followed a massive release of X-ray and gamma radiation. Dan Wilkins, of Saint Mary’s University, stated,
“This is the first time we have been able to link the launching of the corona to a flare. “This will help us understand how supermassive black holes power some of the brightest objects in the universe.”
The quasar that escaped the black hole has been dubbed Q2237+0305, though it is more commonly referred to as ‘Einstein’s Cross’. Quasars are rare celestial formations that pt off unbelievably massive amounts of energy. We have long believed them to contain and/or be directly formed by black holes but until now it was only a theory. At its innermost core there is a disc of matter in orbital motion, known as an accretion disc. This accretion disc is compounded matter, and Einstein’s Cross’s disc is roughly the size of our solar system!
Even with our most powerful telescopes we have, they are insufficient to accurately measure objects at that distance. Using a technique known as microlensing, scientists can study and measure objects that are extremely far away. The technique can also be used on objects that project little to no light. Microlensing measures how light bends around other objects between the observed object and us. The foreground object acts like a lens, magnifying our view of deep regions of space.
“The breakthrough of this work has been that we’ve been able to detect a structure in the inner edge of such a small disk at such a great distance, thanks to the gravitational microlensing effect. It would be the equivalent to detecting an Euro coin at a distance of more than 100000 kilometers,”explains Jorge Jiménez Vicente, a theoretical physics and cosmology researcher for Universitat de València.
The Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics has been tracking the X-ray emissions for the past several years. The data now being collected seems to indicate a never before noticed connections. What makes this situation all the more incredible is that only 1 in 500 quasars can be observed and measured in this way. The information gained from this event will not only deepen our understanding of the universe, in particular black holes, but help us refine the methods we use to scan the skies. It is one thing to refine theories and another entirely to experience an event.