We all know that black holes gobble matter up like nothing else in the universe. But science has revealed an unbelievable arsenal of tricks in the black holes’ playbook.
From nearly achieving impossible-sounding speeds to self-harming and even a bit of banditry, these celestial objects are a lot more versatile than we give them credit for.
1 Spin Really, Really Fast
For the first time, scientists accurately measured a supermassive black hole’s spin. And it’s a doozy: 84 percent of the speed of light.
NGC 1365’s central black hole, 60 million light-years away, is mind-numbingly fast as well as enormous. It’s 3.2 million kilometers (2 million mi) across and boasts several million solar masses.
As it spins, it drags space-time along with it, creating a scorching maelstrom of X-ray-spewing gas and dust that spirals down its drain. The matter likely fell from a single direction, giving it the constant unidirectional push required to attain such speeds.
2 Prowl In Packs
The largest galaxies seen today are seeded by supermassive black holes so immense that they can’t be the product of a single star. So, scientists think “density cusps”—such as star clusters, groups of dying binary stars, or numerous smaller black holes—smash together to birth the mysterious supermassives.
Now there’s direct evidence for that. X-ray analysis reveals that the Milky Way’s center hides a density cusp, a “village” of 12 potential black holes circling the periphery of our central supermassive black hole, Sagittarius A*.
3 Chuck Jupiter-Sized ‘Spitballs’ (Sometimes In Our Direction)
According to theory and simulations, a star strays too close to the dormant Sagittarius A* and gets pulled into spaghetti strands every 10,000 years.
The monster devours half the material and flings the other half into space. But some of the infalling material remains at such a distance that it can fuse into planet-sized fragments.
The scary part? These fragments, which can be as large as Neptune and or even larger than Jupiter, are thrown into galactic space at speeds of 3.2–32.2 kilometers per hour (2–20 million mph).
It is believed that these “tidal disruption events” will eject 100 million such bodies, possibly at us, during the Milky Way’s life
4 Reveal The Galactic Past
The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) has provided the first image of a black hole’s torus, the gassy, dusty doughnut of debris whirling around its black maw.
The landmark torus resides 47 million light-years away in the constellation Cetus. And at a mere 20ish light-years across, it demonstrates ALMA’s acute sensitivity. From the torus, astronomers can read the galaxy’s past, deducing from its asymmetry and motion that it long ago merged with another galaxy
5 Propel Matter At Mind-Boggling Speeds
At a billion light-years away, galaxy PG211+143 is a sweet astronomical targetbecause it’s ultrabright thanks to a feeding black hole at its center. Researchers observed an Earth-sized clump of debris as it fell toward the black hole and clocked it at 30 percent of the speed of light. Much faster than anything yet observed.
Many bodies in space are aligned with one another, like planets orbiting in the same direction, but that’s apparently not true of matter falling into a black hole.
These rings of matter are disordered. They crash into each other, negating rotational velocity and consequently achieving speeds of 100,000 kilometers per second (62,000 mps).