The international research consortium that presented the first direct observations of a black hole in 2019 is back with a stunning new image, which captures the black hole spewing a jet of plasma that shines like a beacon between galaxies.
Like the historic image from 2019, the new observations focus on the monstrous black hole lurking at the center of galaxy M87, one of the largest known in the Universe with a mass 6,5 billion times that of the Sun.
Massive black holes also lurk at the center of most galaxies.
A black hole itself is by definition completely black, yet the material trapped by its gravity and swirling around it heats up and emits strong radiation. This disk of superheated material surrounding the black hole is the source of the jet of radiation at the center of the galaxy M87.
The jet, which is at least 4.900 light-years long, is composed of plasma, material so hot that its atoms have broken into nuclei and electrons. The jet moves at a speed approaching the speed of light and carries enough energy to sterilize an Earth-like planet if it happened to be in its path.
The new image confirms that M87's jet originates from the north pole of the disk of superheated material around the central black hole.
«Η νέα εικόνα συμπληρώνει το παζλ καθώς δείχνει την περιοχή γύρω από τη μαύρη τρύπα μαζί με τον πίδακα» δήλωσε ο Τζάε-Γιουνηκ Κιμ του Ινστιτούτου Ραδιοastronomyς «Μαξ Πλανκ» στη Γερμανία, μέλος της ομάδας που δημοσιεύει τα ευρήματα στο περιοδικό Nature.
"We know that jets emanate from the region around black holes," said Ru-Shen Lu of the Shanghai Astronomical Observatory, "but we still don't fully understand how exactly it happens. To study it, we need to observe the source of the jet as close as possible to the black hole."
Since the galaxy M87 is 55 million light-years away, no single telescope on Earth could directly make out the cosmic monster.
The image was taken with the help of 16 individual radio telescopes around the world, which combined to form a virtual radio telescope as large as Earth.
The research project, known as the Event Horizon Telescope, or ETH (event horizon is the distance limit beyond which nothing, not even light, can escape the gravitational pull of a black hole) was launched in 2012 with the aim of first direct observations of black holes.
In addition to M87's black hole, the telescope has also captured the smaller black hole at the center of our own Galaxy, known as Sagittarius A*.
Recently, researchers processed the first historical image of the M87 black hole with software that reduced noise and improved the image's resolution.