Scientists research nature’s Death Star beams

31 October 2017

A Sheffield scientist has been part of a study into nature’s own “Death Star beams” – jets of energy which shoot out of the centre of black holes.

Dr Vik Dhillon works in the University of Sheffield’s Department of Physics and Astronomy and has been researching the beams.

They are known as ‘relativistic jets’ and the research is conducted by measuring how quickly they switch on and shine brightly once they are launched.

No-one is sure how they are formed, but they are very powerful. Plasma travels quickly along the beam, being fired across the far reaches of space. There is some dispute as to which stage in the beam this happens.

They have been likened to the Death Star beams from Star Wars, due to their power and brightness.

Dr Dhillon said: “One of the best ways of observing a black hole is in a binary system, where the black hole is in orbit with a star and pulling gas from it.

“Some of this gas doesn’t fall into the event horizon of the black hole, but is instead ejected in the form of a jet emanating from close to the black hole.

“Our observations have demonstrated that the rapidly varying optical light we see comes from this jet, only about 40,000km above the black hole, allowing us to test theoretical models of how black hole jets are believed to form.”

Written by Ben Warner

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