NASA / JPL-CALTECH / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY NASA / JPL-CALTECH / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY
Supermassive black hole. Illustration showing a supermassive black hole (left) surrounded by a swirling disk of material falling onto it, known as an accretion disk. The purplish ball of light above the black hole is a representation of a feature called the corona. This is not visible to the human eye, but contains highly energetic particles that generate X-rays. The corona may shift its position. When it moves closer to the black hole, it creates a flare of X-rays before shooting away again. X-ray flares are also detected when the corona travels toward us at very fast speeds. An effect called relativistic boosting normally occurs before a corona shift, intensifying X-rays reflected off material on one side of the accretion disk (which is travelling near half the speed of light), and dimming them the other side. Another form of relativistic boosting occurs when the corona shoots away from the black hole, and later collapses.
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