R.-S. Lu (SHAO), E. Ros (MPIfR), S. Dagnello (NRAO/AUI/NSF)
- The jets were captured being released from a black hole 6.5 billion times the size of our sun.
- The image is the first to connect the jets to the edge of the supermassive black hole.
- It could help us understand how jets, some of the brightest objects in the galaxy, are created.
Scientists have captured the first-ever direct image of a supermassive black hole spewing out powerful jets of plasma.
The black hole, located at the center of the M87 galaxy 55 million light-years away, is around 6.5 billion times bigger than our sun.
Jets launched from black holes can flow for hundreds of thousands of light years and are one of the universe’s biggest mysteries.
Astronomers hope the latest discovery will help us understand exactly how these jets are created — something that could help unlock the mystery of how galaxies form.
Black holes don’t only swallow matter, they sometimes shoot it out
That’s why in the latest image, the black hole at the center of M87 can be seen as a bright ring of matter swirling around a dark hole.
The jets, however, are created by the matter that escapes the black hole.
Material swirling around a black hole needs to lose speed and energy before it can fall inwards. But some of the matter doesn’t slow down fast enough and is redirected away from the black hole along magnetic field lines.
This matter shoots outwards in the form of narrow beams, creating the jets, per NASA.
These jets have incredible properties. Not only are they among the brightest objects in the galaxy, but previous studies have suggested particles in these jets can travel at near-light speed, which is around 670 million mph.
An artist’s impression of a black hole jet.
A big question is where these jets originate
This new picture of the black hole in M87, captured by a collaboration between telescopes from the Global Millimetre VLBI Array, the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, the European Southern Observatory, and the Greenland Telescope, is the first to show how the jet comes connects to the ring around the black hole.
Scientists had previously only been able to snap the jet or the black hole individually — an engineering feat in itself — but this is the first time that they have been able to picture them together.
The new picture, published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature on Wednesday, connects the jets to the edge of the black hole, providing unprecedented insight.
“We know that jets are ejected from the region surrounding black holes, but we still do not fully understand how this actually happens,” Ru-Sen Lu, first author on the study and an astronomer from the Shanghai Astronomical Observatory in China, said in a press release.
“To study this directly we need to observe the origin of the jet as close as possible to the black hole,” he said.
“This is the first image where we are able to pin down where the ring is, relative to the powerful jet escaping out of the central black hole,” Kazunori Akiyama, of MIT’s Haystack Observatory, who developed the imaging software used to visualize the black hole, told The Guardian.
“Now we can start to address questions such as how particles are accelerated and heated, and many other mysteries around the black hole, more deeply.”