Caught in the act, a stellar mass black hole hurls jets into space at nearly light speed

A sequence of dramatic images from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory shows material being shot away from a stellar mass black hole at nearly the speed of light. The black hole, know as MAXI J1820+070 and located some 10,000 light years from Earth, is about eight times more massive than the Sun. It is in the process of stripping material away from a companion star with just half the Sun’s mass. Some of the stolen material crosses the black hole’s event horizon and vanishes in a blaze of high-energy radiation, but some is blasted away in a pair of jets shooting out into space in opposite directions. A movie of sorts was assembled from four Chandra observations in November 2018 and February, May and June of 2019. The jets are moving away at more than 80 percent the speed of light. MAXI J1820+070 is only the third example of such high speed jets seen in X-rays from stellar-mass black holes.

An optical-infrared image of the Milky Way captured by the Pan-STARRS telescope in Hawaii shows the location of MAXI J1820+070, a black hole 10,000 light years from Earth. The inset shows a sequence of four images from the Chandra X-Ray Observatory that capture the ejection of gas from a companion star. Image: X-ray: NASA/CXC/Université de Paris/M. Espinasse et al.; Optical/IR:PanSTARRS)