blackhole jets
Image: COURTESY OF JPL AND NATIONAL INSTITUTE FOR FUSION SCIENCE

Scientists have turned to supercomputers to try to better understand the behavior of black holes. Specifically, researchers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and Toyama University in Japan have modeled the behavior of extremely powerful energy jets expelled by spinning black holes, confirming that their rotation produces power. The team's findings will appear in an upcoming issue of the journal Science.

Not even light can escape the gravitational pull of a black hole. As material is sucked toward the void, however, it can put up a fight. Astronomers have witnessed evidence of such struggles, including emanating streams of energy, using radio and X-ray telescopes but cannot observe a black hole's behavior directly. Borrowing techniques from weather prediction, the team applied their understanding of gravitational and magnetic fields to data gathered from plasma swirling into a black hole. "We have modeled a rotating black hole with magnetized plasma falling into it," Shinji Koide of Toyama University explains. "We simulated the way that the magnetic field harnesses energy from the rotation of the black hole."

The picture that emerges (see image), astrophysicist David Meier of JPL says, includes jets of pure electromagnetic energy ejected by the magnetic field along the north and south poles above the black hole. "The jets," he notes, "contain energy equivalent to the power of the sun, multiplied 10 billion times and then increased another one billion times."