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Black holes are known for their voracious appetites, binging on matter with such ferocity that not even light can escape once it's swallowed up.

Less understood, though, is how black holes purge energy locked up in their rotation, jetting near-light-speed plasmas into space to opposite sides in one of the most powerful displays in the universe. These jets can extend outward for millions of light years.

New simulations led by researchers working at the Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and UC Berkeley have combined decades-old theories to provide new insight about the driving mechanisms in the plasma jets that allows them to steal energy from black holes' powerful gravitational fields and propel it far from their gaping mouths.

The simulations could provide a useful comparison for high-resolution observations from the Event Horizon Telescope, an array that is designed to provide the first direct images of the regions where the plasma jets form.

The telescope will enable new views of the black hole at the center of our own Milky Way galaxy, as well as detailed views of other supermassive black holes.

"How can the energy in a black hole's rotation be extracted to make jets?" said Kyle Parfrey, who led the work on the simulations while he was an Einstein Postdoctoral Fellow affiliated with the Nuclear Science Division at Berkeley Lab. "This has been a question for a long time."

Now a senior fellow at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, Parfrey is the lead author of a study, published Jan. 23 in Physical Review Letters, that details the simulations research.

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