The formation and powering of astrophysical jets are highly complex phenomena that are associated with many types of high-energy astronomical sources. They likely arise from dynamic interactions within accretion disks, whose active processes are commonly connected with compact central objects such as black holes, neutron stars or pulsars. One explanation is that tangled magnetic fields are organised to aim two diametrically opposing beams away from the central source by angles only several degrees wide (c. > 1%). Jets may also be influenced by a general relativity effect known as frame-dragging.
Massive central black holes in galaxies have the most powerful jets, but their structure and behaviours are similar to those of smaller galactic neutron stars and black holes. These SMBH systems are often called microquasars and show a large range of velocities. SS433 jet, for example, has a velocity of 0.23c. Relativistic jet formation may also explain observed gamma-ray bursts. Notably, even weaker and less relativistic jets may be associated with many binary systems.
Mechanisms behind the composition of jets remain uncertain, though some studies favour models where jets are composed of an electrically neutral mixture of nuclei, electrons, and positrons, while others are consistent with jets composed of positron–electron plasma. Trace nuclei swept up in a relativistic positron–electron jet would be expected to have extremely high energy, as these heavier nuclei should attain velocity equal to the positron and electron velocity.
Rotation as possible energy source
Because of the enormous amount of energy needed to launch a relativistic jet, some jets are possibly powered by spinning black holes. However, the frequency of high-energy astrophysical sources with jets suggest combination of different mechanisms indirectly identified with the energy within the associated accretion disk and X-ray emissions from the generating source. Two early theories have been used to explain how energy can be transferred from a black hole into an astrophysical jet:
Blandford–Znajek process. This theory explains the extraction of energy from magnetic fields around an accretion disk, which are dragged and twisted by the spin of the black hole. Relativistic material is then feasibly launched by the tightening of the field lines.
Penrose mechanism. Here energy is extracted from a rotating black hole by frame dragging, which was later theoretically proven to be able to extract relativistic particle energy and momentum, and subsequently shown to be a possible mechanism for jet formation.
Relativistic jets from neutron stars
The pulsar IGR J11014-6103 with supernova remnant origin, nebula and jet.
Jets may also be observed from spinning neutron stars. An example is pulsar IGR J11014-6103, which has the largest jet so far observed in the Milky Way Galaxy whose velocity is estimated at 80% the speed of light. (0.8c.) X-ray observations have been obtained but there is no detected radio signature nor accretion disk. Initially, this pulsar was presumed to be rapidly spinning but later measurements indicate the spin rate is only 15.9 Hz. Such a slow spin rate and lack of accretion material suggest the jet is neither rotation nor accretion powered, though it appears aligned with the pulsar rotation axis and perpendicular to the pulsar's true motion.
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