NASA Discovers 20 Million MPH Winds Around Black Hole

A team of researchers have discovered that the winds around stellar-mass black holes travel at up to 20 million miles per hour.

Using NASA's Chandra X-ray observatory, astronomers were able to measure the winds surrounding the black hole IGR J17091-3624, which is part of a binary system with a sun-sized star at the center of the Milky Way.

The winds are caused by the interaction of the black hole's magnetic field with ionic gases surrounding the black hole. According to the study, these winds have approached three percent of the speed of light, easily dwarfing any previous estimates for a black hole of this size.

These winds were actually blowing in many directions at once, though scientists speculate interactions between the magnetic field and gravitational pull of the black hole could lead to jets of gas traveling perpendicular from the black hole at nearly the speed of light.

Astronomers also note that the extreme winds aren't consistently surrounding the black hole. Instead, regular x-ray emissions observed by the Rossi X-Ray Timing Explorer suggest a "heartbeat" of jet emissions from the black hole.

A stellar-mass black hole like IGR J17091-3624 is generated when a star collapses and is about five to 10 times more massive than our sun. The winds measured by the researchers are surprising because they would be typical for a supermassive black hole, which could be billions or millions of times more massive.

"This black hole is performing well above its weight class," says Jon Miller of the University of Michigan, one of the study's co-authors.

These findings could also change scientists' perceptions of how smaller black holes operate. Although many assume that black holes suck in most material with their immense gravitational pull, the NASA scientists observed that almost 95 percent of the material near the black hole was being blown away by the winds.