The more astronomers observe black holes, the more they learn about these giant monsters of destruction. But where we find destruction, we can also find the construction of something amazing, like a galaxy. Supermassive black holes (SMBs here on) are believed to be at the center of most galaxies because they're the only things capable of holding billions of stars and planets in orbit. The problem is that we don't really know much about them, all we know is what we can observe, or not observe, depending on how you look at it. What we do know by observation is that SMBs can emit jets of radiation and plasma at their poles.
Eileen T. Meyer from the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) and a team of people have been using the Hubble Space Telescope since the mid 1990's to observe and put together images of a jet of an SMB. This SMB is at the center of an elliptical galaxy about 50 million light-years away called M87. With the compilation of these images, the team were able to make a short video of the jet in action and they also learned a couple of new things about this particular black hole.
One thing in particular is that the ejected material creating the jet follows a helical pattern. This observation tells Meyer that there is a strong helical magnetic field present which. When an object gets close enough to a black hole, it gets stretched and ripped to pieces because of the tidal gravitational forces the black hole produces. This newly shredded material then falls into line in an accretion disc around the black hole and waits it's turn to fall past the event horizon. These tidal forces don't only create the disc, it heats up everything in the process. Meyer believes that the material in the accretion disc is responsible for the helical magnetic pattern in the jet at the pole. This observation then helped Meyer and her team to understand why the jet is composed of clumpy material.
"We found things that move quickly," Meyer said. "We found things that move slowly. And, we found things that are stationary. This study shows us that the clumps are very dynamic sources."
Beyond this Meyer believes that these jets can play an important role on the formation and evolution of galaxies but we don't yet know if this clumpy spiral plasma jet is the norm or if it's the oddity of nature.
LINK TO VIDEO: http://hubblesite.org/newscenter/archive/releases/2013/32/video/a/