Black hole spurts jets of iron and nickel

Black hole 4U 1630-47 (center), seen in this artist's illustration with a companion star (right), spurts jets of massive particles, including iron and nickel atoms. The heftier particles give the jet more power compared with spurts of only low-mass particles, such as electrons.

Riccardo Lanfranchi

Jets shooting from a small black hole pack extra power.

New observations show that the jets of black hole 4U 1630-47, in the direction of the constellation Norma, carry massive particles, such as iron and nickel atoms, instead of the typical low-mass particles such as electrons. The fast-moving, heavy-particle jets, which move at two-thirds the speed of light,  have more power than spurts of only low-mass particles, astronomers report November 14 in Nature.

Though 4U 1630-47 is only three to 10 times more massive than the sun, the object’s relatively typical features suggest that supermassive black holes may also shoot jets with massive particles.

Astronomers are interested in objects’ jets, especially those of supermassive black holes, because the particle spurt can shape when and where galaxies form stars. 

photo of Ashley Yeager

Ashley Yeager is the associate news editor at Science News. She has worked at The Scientist, the Simons Foundation, Duke University and the W.M. Keck Observatory, and was the web producer for Science News from 2013 to 2015. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and a master’s degree in science writing from MIT.

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