Professors gain insights on black holes


A new study conducted by two BYU astrophysicists  shows that the translational motion of black holes through magnetic fields powers strong jets of electromagnetic radiation.

“I shifted my focus to black holes about 15 years ago,” said professor David Neilsen, lead author of the study. “I wanted to focus and study things which were hard to understand.”

[media-credit name=”Mark A. Philbrick | BYU Photo” align=”alignleft” width=”300″][/media-credit]
Eric Hirschmann, left, and David Neilsen pose in front a simulation of a black hole forming from the merger of collapsed stars.
He emphasized their findings were not a discovery, rather a substantiation of previously discussed theories. Neilsen said it is not the motion that is new, and most quasars will not have translational motion with respect to their galaxies.


“We don’t yet know of any black holes in the universe that emit radiation by the mechanism,” Neilsen said. “We are extending the current understanding of how black holes interact with magnetic fields, but we are not drastically changing it.”

The previous understanding about the movement of black holes has been identified with the image of a whirlpool or rotating ball. It was this spinning which was associated with the jets of energy being produced. But according to this new study, the translational motion of black holes can also produce energy.

“The black hole is like a generator spinning around in these magnetic fields,” Neilsen said. ” The way the field lines get twisted around and pulled by the spinning black hole creates electromagnetic tension [which turns] into radiation and energy … ”

This finding, which appears in the current issue of “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,” is new because it explains how the movements may also complement each other.

“The two processes do not compete with each other, they combine with each other to give you the overall energy that streams away from the black hole,” said Eric Hirschmann, co-author.

Neilsen said black holes are not completely understood and they can be rather confusing. He remembers how more than 15 years ago it gave him a reason to look to the unknown and explore.

“This have been a passion for quite a long time,” Neilsen said. “I just wanted to study and feel like what I was exploring hadn’t been done before. If black holes were close by and easy to study I probably would have never become interested.”

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