Do Black Holes Produce Enough Energy To Spew Neutrinos?

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We may have to rethink the idea that black holes can generate fundamental particles.

A new study counteracts previous research suggesting that a neutrino was generated by a supermassive black hole in April 2019, in an event known as AT2019dsg in which the black hole was consuming a star. While previous studies showed the neutrino came from the same area of the sky as AT2019dsg, the location may be coincidental as the new work suggests the black hole was not nearly energetic enough (by an order of magnitude) to produce the neutrino.

Neutrinos are subatomic particles that have no electrical charge and an extremely small mass. They are important to physicists because neutrinos are abundant, allowing us to use them as a proxy to study everything from supernovas (star explosions) to the evolution of particles.

While black holes are known for vacuuming up things that get too close, the analogy is not perfect. “When there’s too much material, black holes can’t eat it all smoothly at once,” study co-author Kate Alexander, a postdoctoral fellow at Northwestern University, said in a statement from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. “Some of the gas gets spewed back out during this process — like when babies eat, some of the food ends up on the floor or the walls.”

Team members used two powerful radio telescopes, Very Large Array in New Mexico and Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile, to observe AT2019dsg. The energy produced was immense, equivalent in just 200 days to what the sun would send out in 30 million years.

But calculations from the team indicates a neutrino would need a source roughly 1,000 times as energetic as what was observed at AT2019dsg. Or as Alexander put it, “Instead of a powerful firehose, we see a soft wind.”

The team, however, plans follow-up observations of AT2019dsg to better understand the outflow, and also to do studies of other tidal disruption events (the event seen in AT2019dsg). While neutrinos have never been associated with such events before, and the new study casts doubt on any association, it will take far more work before we can make proclamations for sure.

A study based on the research was published in The Astrophysical Journal. The lead author was Yvette Cendes, a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Astrophysics.

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