Typical disk structure of the simulation of a wrong disk around a rotating black hole.
(K. Pounds et al./University of Leicester)
A chunk of material the size of the Earth is getting sucked into a black hole, with almost a third of the speed of light, a new study reports.
The speed of light in a vacuum is 186,282 miles (299,792 km) per second, and, according to Einstein’s special theory of relativity, which is the highest speed for nothing to travel in our universe. So, something zipping in a third of the speed of light moves almost 56,000 miles (90,000 km) per second, fast enough to circle the Earth two times in that short time.
The recently observed infall event has occurred in the galaxy PG211+143, which is more than 1 billion light-years from Earth. Astronomers spotted with the European space agency’s XMM-Newton space telescope, which observes the universe in X-ray light. [Images: Black Holes of the Universe]
“We were able to find a Earth-sized group of substances for about a day, it was drawn in the direction of the black hole, the speed up of a third of the speed of light before they’re swallowed by the hole,” study lead author Ken Pounds, a space physicist at the University of Leicester in England, said in a statement.
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The matter reached such incredible speeds through black holes have extremely strong gravitational fields, so strong that not even light can escape when it goes beyond a critical limit known as the “event horizon.” (That is why they are called black holes.)
There are different types of black holes. The most massive form, called a supermassive black hole is located in the heart of most, if not all galaxies, including our own milky way Galaxy.
If there is enough to fall in a supermassive black hole, the area shines with superbright X-rays, which are visible for long distances. These objects are called quasars, or active galactic nuclei. However, most black holes are too compact to withdraw such material — and that is usually gas — in immediately. Instead, the stuff is in orbit around the black hole, the formation of an “accretion disk” as it spirals closer and closer. Eventually, the gas is evolving so quickly that it is very warm and light, and the generation of radiation, which we often see from the Earth.
“The job of the gas around the black hole is often assumed to be aligned with the rotation of the black hole, but there is no compelling reason for this to be the case,” University of Leicester representatives wrote in the same statement.
“In fact, the reason we have summer and winter is that the Earth’s daily rotation is not in line with its annual orbit around the sun,” she added. “Up to now it is not clear how wrong rotation can affect the infall of gas. This is particularly relevant for the feeding of supermassive black holes, because matter, interstellar gas clouds, or even isolated star can fall in from any direction.”
The members of the research team thinks that the gas is indeed not correctly aligned with the black hole rotation in PG211+143. In such situations, accretion disks can be warped and torn; a number of the various pieces can then slam into each other, “cancel” their rotation, and allowing some gas-to-zoom right in the direction of the black hole, rather than swirl around.
If misaligned disks are often, it could help explain why the black holes of the early universe grew large, so quickly. Such black holes would rotate relatively slowly, allowing them to nab more gas in a shorter amount of time than previously thought, researchers said.
The new research was published this month in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
Originally published on Space.com.