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Scientists Capture First Image of a Black Hole Blasting Out Jet

Image of a Black Hole Blasting Out Jet
Image of a black hole blasting out the jet. The image is created by an Earth-sized virtual instrument. Credit: Nature / CC BY 4.0

The first-ever direct picture of a black hole releasing a powerful jet has been taken by astronomers.

This is the first time that people have directly seen a black hole in such a clear way. The photo shows a supermassive black hole located in the middle of the Messier 87 galaxy. This black hole has never before been seen by humans.

For the first time, astronomers have observed the connection between the base of a jet moving at almost the speed of light and the matter that surrounds a supermassive black hole before it is swallowed up by the black hole’s surface. This process is called “accretion,” and it has now been seen in detail for the first time.

In the past, photos of the black hole at the center of M87 only showed the jet and the black hole separately, but this new photo shows both together.

Jae-Young Kim, a member of the team that conducted the study from Kyungpook National University in South Korea and the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy, explained that this new image completes the picture by showing the area around the black hole and the jet simultaneously.

Image created by Earth-sized virtual instrument

In 2017, scientists captured the first image of a supermassive black hole located in the center of M87 using Event Horizon Telescope (EHT). This black hole, which is 6.5 billion times more massive than the sun, is situated 55 million light years away from our planet.

Using radio telescopes such as the Global Millimetre VLBI Array, the Greenland Telescope, and the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, scientists created a new image of M87 and the outflow erupting from it, using data from 2018. These instruments worked together to form a virtual instrument that is approximately the size of Earth.

It is believed that most, if not all, large galaxies contain supermassive black holes at their centers. Some of these black holes, like the one in the center of M87, are consuming vast amounts of matter, such as gas, dust, and even stars that get too close.

This results in the emission of powerful jets of matter that travel at almost the speed of light and can extend for thousands of light-years, even beyond the limits of their host galaxies. However, the exact mechanism that produces these jets is still not fully understood.

“We know that jets are ejected from the region surrounding black holes, but we still do not fully understand how this actually happens,” said Ru-Sen Lu, a member of the research team from the Shanghai Astronomical Observatory.

Black hole gobbling up matter

The new image of the M87 supermassive black hole differs from the image previously taken by the EHT telescope. The new image displays the region in longer wavelengths of light, which has an impact on what astronomers can detect in this region.

By using this wavelength, the team of scientists can now observe the emergence of the jet from the ring of emission surrounding the central supermassive black hole, as stated by Thomas Krichbaum, a team member from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy.

The size of the black hole’s emission ring in this new image is also 50% bigger than in the previous EHT image. This newly discovered difference has led scientists to conclude that the M87 supermassive black hole is gobbling up matter at a faster rate than what was previously estimated.

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