Research from a team at the University of Southampton have spotted red flashes coming from a black hole 7,800 light-years from Earth.
The flashes from the black hole (named V404 Cygni) took place in June 2015 over a two week span where the black hole went through a burst of activity. A study detailing the issues was published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
The red coloration in the bursts is caused by the speed at which they were captured by ULTRACAM, a super fast imaging camera on the William Herschel Telescope (located in La Palma on the Canary Islands). The flashes lasted just 1/40th of a second, but packed a power equivalent of roughly 1,000 Suns per burst.
“The very high speed tells us that the region where this red light is being emitted must be very compact,” says the author of the study, Poshak Gandhi. “Piecing together clues about the color, speed, and the power of these flashes, we conclude that this light is being emitted from the base of the black hole jet.”
The activity was caused by the black hole devouring a nearby star that occurred in 1989. The black hole wasn’t able to devour the entire mass of the object, and was fired back into space in the form of jets, which produce the bright red flashes visible to our telescopes.
It’s not exactly understood how these jets form, but it’s though magnetic fields have a significant effect. Nonetheless, observing these events provides evidence as to how black holes interact with material in their orbit.
“We speculate that when the black hole was being rapidly force-fed by its companion orbiting star, it reacted violently by spewing out some of the material as a fast-moving jet,” says Dr. Gandhi. “The duration of these flashing episodes could be related to the switching on and off of the jet, seen for the first time in detail.
“The 2015 event has greatly motivated astronomers to coordinate worldwide efforts to observe future outbursts.”.