Black holes "flare" when they release gigantic jets of material into space. While we've learned much about these jets and the accretion disks that feed black holes, we still know little about the ultra-bright, incredibly energetic bases of these jets.
That's starting to change, thanks to NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, which has captured our best look yet at these jet bases flaring up and expelling gigantic volleys of material into open space. WISE managed to observe this phenomenon around GX 339-4, a black hole located 20,000 light-years away that is at least six times as massive as the Sun.
Astronomer Poshak Gandhi of the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency describes the scene:
"Imagine what it would be like if our sun were to undergo sudden, random bursts, becoming three times brighter in a matter of hours and then fading back again. That's the kind of fury we observed in this jet. With WISE's infrared vision, we were able to zoom in on the inner regions near the base of the stellar-mass black hole's jet for the first time and the physics of jets in action."
For more, check out the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Artist's conception by NASA/JPL.