The baffling and strange behaviors of black holes have become somewhat less mysterious recently, with new observations from NASA’s Explorer missions Swift and the Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR.
Years of observing black holes show many of them are covered with a shroud of glowing-hot plasma, called a corona, which is made from the sucked-in gases of nearby stars. Astronomers have long suspected the corona had something to do with X-ray flashes, but couldn’t be certain; we usually only detect X-ray bursts long after they’re made, not during their formation.
For the first time, however, astronomers recorded a supermassive black hole named Markarian 335 halfway through spewing out a burst of X-ray light. What’s more, the flare happened right after the black hole shot a cloud of its hot plasmatic corona away at around 20% the speed of light.
“The corona gathered inward at first and then launched upwards like a jet,” Dan Wilkins, an astronomer at Saint Mary’s University, said in a press release.