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Scientists analzye magnetic fields in powerful radio jets

Scientists have suggested X-rays produced by a black hole's bipolar jets are the result of scattering, but new study results say otherwise.

By Brooks Hays
Scientists analzye magnetic fields in powerful radio jets
Astronomers mapped the X-ray signature of bipolor jets streaming from the center of galaxy Pictoris A. Photo by NASA/Chandra, Hardcastle et al.

BOSTON, Dec. 28 (UPI) -- Researchers know the accretion disk of condensed cosmic material surrounding a supermassive black hole can sometimes emit dramatic bipolar jets, and these jets sometimes emit X-rays.

But the why and how of the phenomena remain poorly understood. Researchers at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics believe they may be slowly solving these astrophysical problems by studying the magnetic fields present within these jets.

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Recently, astronomers at CfA imaged the signatures of X-rays emitted by the bright radio jets protruding from the black hole at the center of the galaxy Pictoris A, situated some 500 million light-years away.

Some scientists suggest X-rays produced by a black hole's bipolar jets are the result of scattering. High-energy particles like those streaming through a jet can sometimes scatter background light, propelling into X-ray frequency bands.

But the latest data, captured using the Chandra X-ray Observatory, revealed the spectral character of the X-ray emissions to be surprisingly uniform. Researchers say such uniformity is most likely the natural consequence of localized magnetic fields within the jets -- not scattering.

Further exploration into the interactions between high-energy particles and magnetic fields within radio jets may help scientists better understand the phenomenon.

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"Although these new results represent some dramatic improvements in our understanding of Pic A, high-resolution radio measurements of a large sample of similar jets are now needed to refine and extend the models," researchers wrote in a press release.

The latest observations were published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

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