Watch This Black Hole Spew Gas and Energy Into Space

A new video shows a black hole, about 10,000 light years away from Earth, shooting enormous jets of matter

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Scientists have recorded footage of a black hole shooting hot gas and energy into space NASA/CXC / Université de Paris / M. Espinasse et al.; Optical / IR:PanSTARRS

Researchers have recorded a black hole spewing enormous amounts of hot gas and energy into space, according to a statement. As Dennis Overbye reports for the New York Times, the video created by researchers resembles a black hole blowing bubbles—except the reality is much less whimsical.

Led by Mathilde Espinasse from the University of Paris, a team working with NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory conducted four observations of the black hole in November 2018 and in February, May, and June 2019. From those four recordings, they were able to piece together a time-lapse sequence of images that shows massive quantities of material flying away from the black hole. The team published their findings last month in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Together with its companion star, the black hole pictured makes up a system called MAXI J1820+070, which resides in our galaxy about 10,000 light years away, according to the statement. Inside a black hole, a huge amount of matter is extremely compressed. Once anything passes the border known as the “event horizon” in a black hole, it can never come out, as Helen Thompson explains for Smithsonian magazine.

As Passant Rabie reports for Inverse, this black hole is classified as a stellar-mass black hole that has a mass about eight times that of our sun. That’s quite small relative to a supermassive black hole, which can contain billions of times of the sun’s mass.

As this black hole devours its companion star’s matter, the stuff swirls around in a disk, “like water circling a drain,” Overbye explains. Not everything is slated for oblivion, however: some of the material caught in this swirl will escape and get ejected outward in two perpendicular jets, which is what this video depicts.

Researchers estimate that the two jets have shot out roughly 400 million billion pounds of scorching hot material, according to the statement. The materials are moving through space at about 80 percent the speed of light, about 500 million miles per hour, according to a Chandra video.

The supercharged hot matter flying away from the black hole can have serious consequences for everything it comes into contact with, Espinasse tells the New York Times. For instance, “[a] huge increase in cosmic rays during the Pliocene might have been indirectly responsible for the extinction of some ocean animals — not due to irradiation but due to damage to the ozone layer they created,” she tells Overbye. “So maybe crossing the path of a jet could indeed create a massive extinction, though we are a bit speculating here.”