Astrophysical jet

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An astrophysical jet (hereafter 'jet') is a phenomenon often seen in astronomy, where streams of matter are emitted along the axis of rotation of a compact object. While it is still the subject of ongoing research to understand how jets are formed and powered, the two most often proposed origins are dynamic interactions within the accretion disk, or a process from within the central object (such as a black hole or neutron star). When matter is emitted at speeds approaching the speed of light, these jets are called relativistic jets, because the effects of special relativity become important. Large relativistic jets often form from mergers of the massive central black holes in merging galaxies.[1] The largest jets are those from black holes in active galaxies such as quasars and radio galaxies. Other systems which often contain jets include cataclysmic variable stars, X-ray binaries and T Tauri stars. Herbig–Haro objects are caused by the interaction of jets with the interstellar medium. Bipolar outflows or jets may also be associated with protostars (young, forming stars),[2] or with evolved post-AGB stars (often in the form of bipolar nebulae).

Question dropshade.png Unsolved problem in physics:
Why do the disks surrounding certain objects, such as the centers of active galaxies, emit jets along their polar axes?
(more unsolved problems in physics)

Accretion disks around many stellar objects are able to produce jets, although those from super massive black holes are generally the fastest and most active. It has been theorized the speed of a jet is about the same as the escape velocity of the central object, however observed relativistic jets from neutron stars contradict this. While it is not known exactly how accretion disks would accelerate jets or produce positron-electron plasma, they are generally thought to generate tangled magnetic fields that cause the jets to accelerate and collimate. The hydrodynamics of a de Laval nozzle may also give a hint to the mechanisms involved.

Jet composition[edit]

One of the best ways of exploring how jets are produced is to determine the composition of jets at a radius where they can be directly observed.[3] For example, it has been suggested if a jet originates outside a star the plasma should be ion-electron composition, whereas if a jet originates from within a black hole or neutron star it likely will be positron-electron composition.[4] Multiple recent measurements indicate initial jet composition is primarily positron-electron plasma.[5]

Presently lab production of relativistic 5MeV positron-electron beams allows low energy studies of characteristics such as how different elements interact with 5MeV positron-electron beams, how energy is transferred to particles, and the shock effect of GRBs.[6]

Relativistic jets[edit]

Relativistic jet. The environment around the AGN where the relativistic plasma is collimated into jets which escape along the pole of the supermassive black hole.

Relativistic jets are very powerful jets[7] of plasma, with speeds close to the speed of light, that are emitted near the central black holes of some active galaxies (notably radio galaxies and quasars), stellar black holes, and neutron stars. Their lengths can reach several thousand[8] or even hundreds of thousands of light years.[9] If the jet speed is close to the speed of light, the effects of the Special Theory of Relativity are significant; for example, relativistic beaming will change the apparent beam brightness (see the 'one-sided' jets below). The mechanics behind both the creation of the jets[10][11] and the composition of the jets[12] are still a matter of much debate in the scientific community. Jet composition might vary; some studies favour a model in which the jets are composed of an electrically neutral mixture of nuclei, electrons, and positrons, while others are consistent with a jet primarily of positron-electron plasma.[13][14]

Elliptical galaxy M87 emitting a relativistic jet, as seen by the Hubble Space Telescope.

Massive galactic central black holes have the most powerful jets. Similar jets on a much smaller scale develop from neutron stars and stellar black holes. These systems are often called microquasars. An example is SS433, whose well-observed jet has a velocity of 0.23c, although other microquasars appear to have much higher (but less well measured) jet velocities. Even weaker and less relativistic jets may be associated with many binary systems; the acceleration mechanism for these jets may be similar to the magnetic reconnection processes observed in the Earth's magnetosphere and the solar wind.

The general hypothesis among astrophysicists is that the formation of relativistic jets is the key to explaining the production of gamma-ray bursts. These jets have Lorentz factors of ~100 or greater (that is, speeds over roughly 0.99995c), making them some of the swiftest celestial objects currently known.

The pulsar IGR J11014-6103 with supernova remnant origin, nebula and jet.

IGR J11014-6103 has the largest jet observed in the Milky Way Galaxy. Fortunately this relativistic helical jet and its source are not obscured by explosion debris or accretion material. This jet is observed in x-rays and has no detected radio signature.[15] Numbers in this paragraph are tentative. In the composite processed image the neutron star PULSAR is the point-like object with a PULSAR WIND NEBULA tail trailing behind it for about 3 light years. The JET, aligned with the pulsar rotation axis, is perpendicular to the pulsar's trajectory and extends out over 37 light years (about 10 times the distance from our sun to the nearest visible star). This distance is quite impressive considering the estimated neutron star radius is only about 12-km, and illustrates the power of relativistic jets. The estimated velocity of this jet is 0.8c. In the image the high speed runaway pulsar was created and ejected about 10 – 30 thousand years prior from a supernova explosion which created the SUPERNOVA REMNANT. The pulsar is shown about 60 light years from the original supernova location. The pulsar's speed is reported between 0.003 – 0.008c; faster than almost all runaway neutron stars. This pulsar is not listed in the latest revision of Accreting Millisecond X-Ray Pulsars (AMXPs)[16] and no accretion material has been detected.[17][18][19][20] This star was presumed to be rapidly spinning but later measurements indicate the spin rate is only 15.9 Hz.[21][22] This rather slow spin rate and the lack of accretion material suggest the jet is neither rotation nor accretion powered. A counter-jet (not shown in the image) has been significantly confirmed but may be difficult to detect due to relativistic beaming.[23][24] The glitch at about 1/3 the jet length is presently unexplained but might be due to the jet switching off and on or the jet orientation changing. Accurate mass measurements for this star might not be possible and temperature estimates are not yet available.

Theories for the IGR J11014-6103 Jet: Recent observations indicate some neutron stars make jets about as efficiently as black holes. Theories for relativistic neutron star jets fall into two general categories: (a) Jets originating outside the star. (b) Jets originating within the star. The following theories are a partial list and should not be considered authoritative as there is not a consensus on the subject and sources do not go into sufficient detail:

Jets originating outside the star: Most theories predict the jets are driven by the enormous rotation energy of the compact objects and accretion disks that surround it. Through magneto-hydrodynamic mechanisms, the rotation energy is evacuated through the poles by means of jets, as the rest can fall towards the gravitational attraction center.[25] It has been theorized in the case of a black hole, this energy is stored in a giant vortex of space-time that is constantly dragged around the black hole. However neutron stars have powerful jets similar to black holes, but there is no vortex effect, so something else must be powering the jet.[26] Some theories suggest the neutron star magnetic field powers the jets and the rotation of this intense magnetic field generates intense electric fields that literally tear electrons from the star surface to form the jets.[27]

Jets originating within the star: Multiple observations indicate relativistic jets are primarily positron-electron plasma.[5][13] A possible explanation for relativistic neutron star jets is collapsing core nuclei efficiently convert matter into energy[28] by the process of: proton → positron + 938MeV, resulting in a 450MeV maximum electrically neutral positron-electron beam. Trace nuclei swept up in such a beam could achieve an energy up to (nucleus mass/electron mass) X (450MeV - electron escape energy).

Rotating black hole as possible energy source[edit]

Because of the enormous amount of energy needed to launch a relativistic jet, some jets are thought to be powered by spinning black holes. There are two well known theories for how energy is transferred from a black hole to a jet, although these theories do not satisfactorily explain massive positron-electron plasma generation or jet composition.

  • Blandford–Znajek process.[29] This is the most popular theory for the extraction of energy from a central black hole. The magnetic fields around an accretion disk are dragged by the spin of the black hole. The relativistic material is possibly launched by the tightening of the field lines. Note that Blandford also states lepton (positron-electron) jets should originate within a star.
  • Penrose mechanism.[30] This extracts energy from a rotating black hole by frame dragging. This theory was later proven to be able to extract relativistic particle energy and momentum,[31] and subsequently shown to be a possible mechanism for the formation of jets.[32] The Penrose process does not explain the IGR J11014-6103 jet.

Other images[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ NASA/ESA Video]
  2. ^ "Star sheds via reverse whirlpool". 27 December 2007. Retrieved 26 May 2015. 
  3. ^ Blandford, Roger; Agol, Eric; Broderick, Avery; Heyl, Jeremy; Koopmans, Leon; Lee, Hee-Won (2001). "Compact Objects and Accretion Disks". arXiv:astro-ph/0107228v1. 
  4. ^ Blandford, Roger; Agol, Eric; Broderick, Avery; Heyl, Jeremy; Koopmans, Leon; Lee, Hee-Won (2001). "Compact Objects and Accretion Disks". arXiv:astro-ph/0107228v1. 
  5. ^ a b Electron-positron Jets Associated with Quasar 3C 279
  6. ^ Lab production of 5MeV positron-electron beams
  7. ^ Wehrle, A.E.; Zacharias, N.; Johnston, K.; et al. (11 Feb 2009). "What is the structure of Relativistic Jets in AGN on Scales of Light Days?" (PDF). Astro2010: the Astronomy and Astrophysics Decadal Survey 2010: 310. Bibcode:2009astro2010S.310W. 
  8. ^ Biretta, J. (6 Jan 1999). "Hubble Detects Faster-Than-Light Motion in Galaxy M87". 
  9. ^ "Evidence for Ultra-Energetic Particles in Jet from Black Hole". Yale University – Office of Public Affairs. 20 June 2006. Archived from the original on 2008. 
  10. ^ Meier, David L (2003). "The theory and simulation of relativistic jet formation: Towards a unified model for micro- and macroquasars". New Astronomy Reviews 47 (6–7): 667. arXiv:astro-ph/0312048. Bibcode:2003NewAR..47..667M. doi:10.1016/S1387-6473(03)00120-9. 
  11. ^ Semenov, V.; Dyadechkin, Sergey; Punsly, Brian (2004). "Simulations of Jets Driven by Black Hole Rotation". Science 305 (5686): 978–980. arXiv:astro-ph/0408371. Bibcode:2004Sci...305..978S. doi:10.1126/science.1100638. PMID 15310894. 
  12. ^ Georganopoulos, Markos; Kazanas, Demosthenes; Perlman, Eric; Stecker, Floyd W. (2005). "Bulk Comptonization of the Cosmic Microwave Background by Extragalactic Jets as a Probe of Their Matter Content". The Astrophysical Journal 625 (2): 656. arXiv:astro-ph/0502201. Bibcode:2005ApJ...625..656G. doi:10.1086/429558. 
  13. ^ a b "NASA – Vast Cloud of Antimatter Traced to Binary Stars". 
  14. ^ Wardle, J.F.C (1998). "Electron–positron jets associated with the quasar 3C279". Nature 395 (1 October 1998): 457–461. Bibcode:1998Natur.395..457W. doi:10.1038/26675. 
  15. ^ "Runaway pulsar has astronomers scratching their heads". 
  16. ^ Patruno, A.; Watts, A. L. (2012). "Accreting Millisecond X-Ray Pulsars". arXiv:1206.2727 [astro-ph.HE]. 
  17. ^ "Fastest Pulsar Moving With Tremendous Speed Of 6 Million Miles Per Hour – Found –". 
  18. ^ "Chandra :: Photo Album :: IGR J11014-6103  :: June 28, 2012". 
  19. ^ Pavan, L.; Pühlhofer, G.; Bordas, P.; Audard, M.; Balbo, M.; Bozzo, E.; Eckert, D.; Ferrigno, C.; Filipović, M. D.; Verdugo, M.; Walter, R. (2015). "A closer view of the IGR J11014-6103 outflows". arXiv:1511.01944 [astro-ph.HE]. 
  20. ^ "Neutron star jet: An exploded star creates a truly bizarre scene.". Slate Magazine. 
  21. ^ Pavan, L.; Bordas, P.; Pühlhofer, G.; Filipović, M. D.; De Horta, A.; o' Brien, A.; Balbo, M.; Walter, R.; Bozzo, E.; Ferrigno, C.; Crawford, E.; Stella, L. (2014). "The long helical jet of the Lighthouse nebula, IGR J11014-6103" (PDF). Astronomy & Astrophysics 562: A122. arXiv:1309.6792. Bibcode:2014A&A...562A.122P. doi:10.1051/0004-6361/201322588.  Long helical jet of Lighthouse nebula page 7
  22. ^ Halpern, J. P.; Tomsick, J. A.; Gotthelf, E. V.; Camilo, F.; Ng, C. -Y.; Bodaghee, A.; Rodriguez, J.; Chaty, S.; Rahoui, F. (2014). "Discovery of X-ray Pulsations from the INTEGRAL Source IGR J11014-6103". The Astrophysical Journal 795 (2): L27. arXiv:1410.2332. Bibcode:2014ApJ...795L..27H. doi:10.1088/2041-8205/795/2/L27. 
  23. ^ Lindblom, L. (1984). "Limits on the gravitational redshift form neutron stars". Astrophysical Journal 278: 364. Bibcode:1984ApJ...278..364L. doi:10.1086/161800. 
  24. ^ Zhao, Xian-Feng; Jia, Huan-Yu (2014). "The surface gravitational redshift of the massive neutron star PSR J0348+0432" (PDF). Revista mexicana de astronomía y astrofísica 50 (1): 103–108. Bibcode:2014RMxAA..50..103Z. ISSN 0185-1101. 
  25. ^ Mirabel, I. F. (2008). "Microquasars: Summary and Outlook". The Jet Paradigm. Lect.Notes Phys. Lecture Notes in Physics 794. pp. 1–15. arXiv:0805.2378. doi:10.1007/978-3-540-76937-8_1. ISBN 978-3-540-76936-1. 
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  27. ^ "Crab Nebula's Neutron Star Pulsed Most Powerful Beam Ever Detected --". The Daily Galaxy --Great Discoveries Channel: Sci, Space, Tech. 
  28. ^ start FOUR minutes into video: Sagittarius produces 15 billion tons/sec of electron-positron matter. 1 September 2008 – via YouTube. 
  29. ^ Blandford, R. D.; Znajek, R. L. (1977). "Electromagnetic extraction of energy from Kerr black holes". Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 179 (3): 433. Bibcode:1977MNRAS.179..433B. doi:10.1093/mnras/179.3.433. 
  30. ^ Penrose, Roger (1969). "Gravitational Collapse: The Role of General Relativity". Rivista del Nuovo Cimento 1: 252–276. Bibcode:1969NCimR...1..252P.  Reprinted in: Penrose, R. (2002), ""Golden Oldie": Gravitational Collapse: The Role of General Relativity", General Relativity and Gravitation 34 (7): 1141, Bibcode:2002GReGr..34.1141P, doi:10.1023/A:1016578408204 
  31. ^ R.K. Williams (1995). "Extracting x rays, Ύ rays, and relativistic ee+ pairs from supermassive Kerr black holes using the Penrose mechanism". Physical Review 51 (10): 5387–5427. Bibcode:1995PhRvD..51.5387W. doi:10.1103/PhysRevD.51.5387. PMID 10018300. 
  32. ^ Williams, Reva Kay (2004). "Collimated Escaping Vortical Polare−e+Jets Intrinsically Produced by Rotating Black Holes and Penrose Processes". The Astrophysical Journal 611 (2): 952. arXiv:astro-ph/0404135. Bibcode:2004ApJ...611..952W. doi:10.1086/422304. 
  33. ^ "Hubble Video Shows Shock Collision Inside Black Hole Jet". 27 May 2015. 

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