Scientists capture the first image of a jet erupting from the edge of a black hole

Scientists capture the first image of a jet erupting from the edge of a black hole


Scientists observe new images of the universe’s most photogenic black hole providing insight into the behavior of mysterious black holes.

For the first time, we’re seeing the source of a massive jet of plasma blasting into space from the edge of the supermassive black hole M87*. It’s also the first time we’ve seen a black hole and its jet shadow together in a single image, a sight that will help astronomers understand how these massive streams of plasma are generated.

“We know that jets are ejected from the region around black holes,” says Ru-Sen Lu, an astronomer at 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. origin of the jet as close as possible to the black hole.”

The new image shows the jet generation as well as the shadow and ring around the black hole (inset). (R.-S. Lu/SHAO, E. Ros/MPIfR, S. Dagnello/NRAO/AUI/NSF)

Black holes, as we all know, are famous for not emitting anything that we can detect. They are so dense that space-time effectively collapses into a closed sphere around them, so that no speed in the universe is sufficient to achieve an escape velocity. But the space outside the boundary of that ball—what we call the event horizon—is another matter.

Here is the region of extremes, where gravity reigns supreme. Any nearby material gets caught in its trap, swirling into a disk of material that pours over the black hole like water. 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) collaboration.

But not all material is necessarily drawn outside the event horizon. Some of them coat the edge before being launched into space from the polar regions of the black hole, creating jets that can travel at a significant percentage of the speed of light and punch vast distances through interstellar space.

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Astronomers believe that this material is deflected from the inner rim of the disk along magnetic field lines beyond the event horizon. These magnetic field lines accelerate the particles so that when they reach the poles, they are launched into space at high speeds.

It is a broad stroke; The specifics are more difficult to pin down. We know that M87* has a jet that reaches 100,000 light-years in radio wavelengths, Scientists about the diameter of our own galaxy. So, in 2018, astronomers used powerful radio telescopes to form the Global mm-VLBI Array (GMVA) to see if they could capture the region from which the jet launched. It collected data at longer wavelengths than the EHT, revealing different information.

“M87 has been observed for many decades, and 100 years ago we knew the jet was there, but we couldn’t put it into context,” says Lu. “With GMVA, including NRAO and GBO’s premier instruments, we’re observing at lower frequencies so we’re seeing more detail—and now we know there’s more detail to see.”

Diagram showing structures associated with active black holes. (ESO)

Galaxy M87 is located about 55 million light-years away and has a supermassive black hole around 6.5 billion times the mass of the Sun, which is actively Scientists accreting matter from its Scientists surrounding disk. An image captured by the EHT shows, for the first time, the shadow of a black hole—a dark region at the center of a glowing ring of material, distorted by the gravitational curvature of spacetime.

The new image shows a larger area of ​​space than the EHT image. It shows that the extent of the plasma around M87* is much larger than what we see in the EHT image, in addition to the source of the jet.

“The original EHT imaging revealed only a portion of the accretion disk around the center of the black hole. By changing the observation wavelength from 1.3 millimeters to 3.5 millimeters, we can see more of the accretion disk, and now the jet, at the same time,” an astronomer at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory says Tony Minter. “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 jets are launched from the region of space around the black hole, Scientists with magnetic field lines play an important role in removing material to be launched as jets.

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But they don’t work alone. A powerful wind emanates from the disc itself, driven by radiation pressure. This wind, the image shows, contributes to the formation of the M87 jet.

This is a very significant advance in black hole science, but the researchers are not done. There’s a lot to see across the radio spectrum, and M87* has proven it can deliver.

“We plan to observe the region around the black hole at the center of M87 at different radio wavelengths to further Scientists study the emission of the jet,” says astronomer Eduardo Ross of the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Germany. “The coming years will be exciting, as we learn more about what happens near one of the most mysterious regions of the universe.”

This is published in research Nature.

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