Simulations of Weak Black Hole Jets

  • Released Tuesday, November 15th, 2022
  • Updated Wednesday, May 3rd, 2023 at 11:43AM

This sequence shows the simulated evolution of weak jets (orange, pink, and purple) formed by a supermassive black hole as they interact with stars and gas clouds (green, yellow) at the center of a galaxy. The jet is angled about 15 degrees toward the plane of its galaxy and is shown in 12 time steps, with each interval representing 50,000 years. The image at bottom right shows the jets 600,000 years after they formed. Each step is available as a 4K video and as frames by selecting "Download Options."

Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/R. Tanner and K. Weaver

NASA Goddard astrophysicists Ryan Tanner and Kim Weaver have simulated weak jets produced by monster black holes, which can weigh up to billions of times the Sun's mass, using the NASA Center for Climate Simulation's Discover supercomputer. This page contains visualizations of the jets for a galaxy about the mass of our own Milky Way, with gas distribution and black hole activity modeled after spiral galaxies NGC 1386, NGC 3079, and NGC 4945.

As matter falls toward the black hole, some of it accelerates nearly to light speed and diverts into a narrow pair of jets flowing in opposite directions. The clearest examples extend hundreds of thousands of light-years and are easily detected features in radio. But weaker jets, which are more difficult to detect, can greatly impact the central regions of their host galaxies. Astronomers suspected weak jets might be responsible for unusual gas motions or otherwise unexplainable optical and X-ray emission in some black-hole-powered galaxies.

The simulations shown here vary the jets' angle to the plane of its galaxy by up to 60 degrees, following their evolution across 26,000 light-years of space over 600,000 years. The final form of these outflows depends mainly on their interactions with large, dense gas clouds in the galaxy's central region. The clouds can disrupt, deflect, split, or even suppress the jet. This atlas of simulations provides an important touchstone for better understanding how weaker, less apparent jets modify the inner regions of their home galaxies.

This sequence shows the simulated evolution of weak jets (orange, pink, and purple) formed by a supermassive black hole as they interact with stars and gas clouds (green, yellow) at the center of a galaxy. The jet is angled about 15 degrees toward the plane of its galaxy and is shown in 12 time steps, with each interval representing 50,000 years. The image at bottom right shows the jets 600,000 years after they formed. Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/R. Tanner and K. Weaver

This sequence shows the simulated evolution of weak jets (orange, pink, and purple) formed by a supermassive black hole as they interact with stars and gas clouds (green, yellow) at the center of a galaxy. The jet is angled about 15 degrees toward the plane of its galaxy and is shown in 12 time steps, with each interval representing 50,000 years. The image at bottom right shows the jets 600,000 years after they formed.

Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/R. Tanner and K. Weaver

This movie rotates around a weak black hole jet as it appeared at the end of the simulation, when it was 600,000 years old. This jet formed with no tilt toward its galaxy's plane, an orientation that provided the lowest level of interaction with interstellar clouds. 4K video and frames are available.

Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/R. Tanner and K. Weaver

As above but with the jets oriented 30 degrees toward the galaxy's central plane. The more extensive interaction with the galaxy's stars and gas clouds has caused the jets to split in two. 4K video and frames are available.

Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/R. Tanner and K. Weaver

As above but with the jets oriented 45 degrees toward the galaxy's central plane. At steeper angles, the jets have greater opportunity to encounter cold gas clouds that can resist or modify the flow. 4K video and frames are available.

Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/R. Tanner and K. Weaver

As above but with the jets oriented 60 degrees toward the galaxy's central plane. In this case, the jets are almost completely stifled by interactions with gas clouds in the galaxy's disk. 4K video and frames are available.

Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/R. Tanner and K. Weaver



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NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. However, individual items should be credited as indicated above.


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