New images of the most photographed dark hole in the universe provide insight into the behavior of the mysterious black hole.
For the first time, we are searching for the source of a massive outflow of plasma blasting into space from the edge of the M87* supermassive black hole. It’s also the first time we’ve seen the black hole’s shadow and jet together in the same image, a sight that should help astronomers learn how these giant outflows of plasma are created.
“We know that jets shoot out from the region around black holes,” says astronomer Ro Sen Lu from the Shanghai Astronomical Observatory in China, “But we still don’t fully understand how this actually happens. To study this directly, we need to observe the jet’s origin as close to the black hole as possible.”
Black holes, as we all know, are notorious for not giving off anything we can detect. They are so dense that space-time effectively wraps itself into a closed sphere around them, so there is no velocity in the universe sufficient to achieve escape velocity. But the space outside the bounds of that sphere—what we call the event horizon—is another matter.
This is an extreme region where gravity reigns supreme. Any nearby matter is caught in its ambush, and spins into a disk of material that pours down the black hole like water down a gutter. Friction and gravity heat this material, causing it to glow; This is what we saw in the now famous image of M87* first released in 2019, from data collected in 2017 by the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) cooperate.
But not all matter is necessarily drawn beyond the event horizon. Some skate to the edge before being launched into space from the black hole’s polar regions, forming jets that can travel at a significant percentage of the speed of light and puncture vast distances in interstellar space.
Astronomers believe this material has been shunted from the inner edge of the disk along magnetic field lines outside the event horizon. These magnetic field lines accelerate the particles so that when they reach the poles they are launched very quickly into space.
These are the outlines. It’s hard to pin down the details. We know M87* has a plane up 100,000 light years away at radio wavelengths, which are about the diameter of our galaxy. So, in 2018, astronomers used United’s powerful radio telescopes to form the Global mm-VLBI Array (GMVA) to see if they can capture in detail the area the planes are taking off from. It collected longer wavelength data from the EHT, revealing different information.
“The M87 has been observed over many decades, and 100 years ago we knew the plane existed, but we couldn’t put it in context,” Lou says. “With GMVA, including the main instruments in the NRAO and GBO, we notice less hesitation, so we see more detail — and now we know there is more detail to see.”
Located about 55 million light-years away, galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole about 6.5 billion times the mass of the Sun, and is actively gathering matter from a disk around it. The image captured by the EHT showed, for the first time, this black hole’s shadow – a dark region at the center of a glowing ring of material, distorted by the gravitational curvature of space-time.
The new image shows a wider space region than the EHT image. It reveals that the range of plasma around M87* is much greater than what we see in the EHT image, as well as the source of the jet.
“The original EHT imaging revealed only a portion of the accretion disk surrounding the center of the black hole. By changing the observation wavelengths from 1.3 mm to 3.5 mm, we can see more of the accretion disk, and now the jet, at the same time,” says astronomer Tony Minter National Radio Astronomy Observatory. “This revealed that the ring around the black hole is 50 percent larger than we previously thought.”
The new image also revealed new information about how the jet is launched from the region of space around the black hole, confirming that magnetic field lines do indeed play an important role in transporting material away to be launched in the form of jets.
But they don’t act alone. a Strong wind It emits from the disc itself, powered by radiation pressure. The photo shows that these winds contribute to the creation of the M87.
This is a very important breakthrough in the science of black holes, but the researchers are not finished. There is a lot to see in the entire radio spectrum, and the M87* has proven that it can deliver.
“We plan to monitor the region around the black hole at the center of M87 at various radio wavelengths to study the emission of the jet,” says astronomer Eduardo Ross from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Germany. “The coming years will be exciting, as we will be able to learn more about what is happening near one of the most mysterious regions in the universe.”
Research published in nature.
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