Scientists spot high-speed wind from hungry black hole

After more than 25 years of silence, the nearby black hole known as V404 Cygni let out a bright and violent flare-up last June and now researchers have detected a remarkably powerful wind swirling around the massive object, according to a new report.

Published in the journal Nature, the report said the wind contained of neutral material of unionized hydrogen and helium. The gust developed in the external layers of the black hole’s accretion disc, a swirl of material encompassing the black hole. The study team said the detection of this kind of wind is a first for a system of this type, and it was found to have speeds of around 1,900 miles per second, a speed which allowed the wind to escape from the black hole’s gravity.

“Its presence allows us to explain why the outburst, in spite of being bright and very violent, with continuous changes in luminosity and ejections of mass in the form of jets, was also very brief, lasting only two weeks,” Phil Charles, a professor of astrophysics from the University of Southampton, said in a press release.

How did scientists find this outburst?

The study used the Gran Telescopio Canaries, or GTC, at the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory in the Canary Islands. The scope showed the presence of a nebula established from material pushed out by the wind. This phenomenon, which has been viewed for the first time in a black hole, also allows researchers to approximate the amount of mass thrown into the interstellar medium.

“The brightness of the source and the large collecting area of the GTC allowed us not only to detect the wind, but also to measure the variation of its properties on time-scales of minutes,” said study author Teo Muñoz Darias, a researcher at the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (IAC). “This outburst of V404 Cygni, because of its complexity and because of the high quantity and quality of the observations, will help us understand how black holes swallow material via their accretion discs.”

“We think that what we have observed with the GTC in V404 Cygni happens, at least, in other black holes with large accretion discs,” the study team concluded.

V404 Cygni is part of binary system situated in the constellation of Cygnus. In these systems, of which less than 50 are known, a black hole ingests material from its companion star. During this course of action, material drops onto the black hole and establishes an accretion disc. While the hotter, central parts of the disc give off X-rays, the outer areas give off visible light and researchers can use tools like the GTC to study these areas of the disc.

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Image credit: University of Southampton

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