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Tue Oct 15, 2019, 02:03 AM

High-speed video shows violent flaring at center of black hole

By Nick Lavars
October 13, 2019

Screen grab from a high-frame rate video depicting violent flares at the heart of a black holeUniversity of Southampton

Advances in imaging technology are allowing researchers to observe scientific phenomena in exciting new ways, both here on Earth and far, far beyond. By training a pair of instruments on a nearby black hole, a team of astronomers have now produced a high-frame rate visualization of violent flares at its center in the kind of detail never seen before.

The black hole in question goes by the catchy name of MAXI J1820+070 and is located within the Milky Way, but about 10,000 light years away. It bears the mass of around seven Suns, condensed into section of space covering less area than the city of London.

Like all black holes, MAXI J1820+070 emits wildly fluctuating ripples of radiation caused by interactions between its immense gravity and magnetic field. While instruments like the Event Horizon Telescope, which produced the first direct image of a black hole in April, have greatly improved our capacity to observe them, catching these fluctuations in action has been tricky so far.

Enter the HiPERCAM instrument on the Gran Telescopio Canarias in the Canary Islands and NASA’s NICER observatory on the International Space Station. By combining visible light detections from the former and X-ray light detections from the latter, the team led by astronomers at the University of Southampton was able to translate this data into an artist's impression video that shows these violent flares in action, at more than 300 frames per second.


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