True to the model, radiation from the blazar cycled in its spatial orientation (polarization) during the first flare-up, indicating that the plasma in the knot moved circularly. "This is what the jet-formation theorists predicted," Marscher says. "Our observations lift the veil a bit on the mystery of jet formation and, more definitively, tell us where in the jet the outbursts occur."
If they hold up, the results are "very intriguing," says astrophysicist John Hawley of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, who specializes in simulations of accretion disks around black holes. Simulations have shown that plasma jets happen naturally in corkscrew-shaped magnetic fields, he says [see example below: cutaway view of a jet (orange) close to an accreting black hole].
Hawley says that true verification will only come when three-dimensional modeling can confirm that the corkscrew shape does not unwind due to some unexpected effect, adding that if astronomers keep mining for data, "hopefully we'll meet somewhere in the middle."