Gigantic X-rays flares offer new insight into the whirling maelstrom just outside supermassive black holes

Jun 16, 2017
Supermassive black holes power some of the most luminous objects we see in the Universe. When material spirals into a supermassive black hole in the center of a galaxy that is in excess of a million Solar masses, it gives rise to an active galactic nucleus, or AGN (also discussed in two previous KIPAC blogposts: this one focused on observations of flaring from AGNs, whilethis one focused on simulation aspects). In addition to spewing electromagnetic radiation running from visible light through ultraviolet all the way to X-rays and gamma rays, many AGN can launch jets of particles at close to the speed of light. These jets are detected through the radio waves they emit by synchrotron radiation and can extend between 50 and 100 kpc (about 150,000 to 300,000 light years) from the central black hole. All this activity occurs in and around the so-called accretion disc: the flattened disc of gas that is spiralling into the black hole, just moments before it plunges through the surface of no return, the “event horizon” of the central massive black hole.