IXPE telescope shows a microquasar to scientists

Using data from the IXPE telescope, scientists have the opportunity to study microquasars, in particular, the X-ray emission of their high-speed jets. 

Microquasar SS-433. Source: Wikipedia

How to find relativistic jets?

The powerful gravitational fields of black holes can absorb the matter of entire planets — often so strong that they push out streams of particles that move at speeds close to the speed of light, and formations known as jets are formed. Scientists understand that high-speed jets can accelerate these particles, which are called cosmic rays, but little is known about this process for sure.

Recent results obtained by researchers using data from NASA’s IXPE spacecraft (Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer) give scientists new clues about how particles accelerate in this extreme environment. 

They did this by studying the first known microquasar, a system consisting of a black hole that sucks matter out of a companion star. We are talking about the SS-433 system, which is located in the center of the supernova remnant W50 in the constellation Aquarius, about 18,000 light-years from Earth. It was discovered in 1976 by astronomers Bruce Stephenson and Nicholas Sanduleak.

What IXPE showed

Three IXPE onboard telescopes measure a special property of X-ray light called “polarization”. It represents the alignment of electromagnetic waves in the same plane at X-ray frequencies. Studying this phenomenon helps researchers understand the physical processes taking place in extreme regions of our universe, such as the environment around black holes, and how particles accelerate in these regions. 

“The IXPE data show that the magnetic field near the acceleration region points in the direction the jets are moving,” says astrophysicist Philip Kaaret of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, principal investigator of the IXPE mission.

Magnetic fields of jets

The high level of polarization detected with IXPE shows that the magnetic field is well ordered, at least aligned in one direction. This conclusion was unexpected for scientists. Researchers have long assumed that the jet and the interstellar medium interact. Probably, such an interaction between the radiation flows and the medium of gas and dust creates a jolt, which leads to disordered magnetic fields.

As researchers continue to evaluate IXPE’s results and study new objects in space, its data can also help determine whether the same mechanism is at work to equalize magnetic fields in streams ejected by various phenomena — from jets of black holes flowing from supernova remnants to streams ejected by exploding stars such as blazars.

According to phys.org

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