Astronomy: First image of a black hole and the jet that forms there

Supermassive black holes in galaxies often eject powerful jets. Now, for the first time, the place of origin has been recorded.

The black hole shadow and the jet  (Image: R-S Lu (SHAO), E Ros (MPIfR), S Dagnello (NRAO/AUI/NSF))

For the first time, astronomers have succeeded in imaging the shadow of a black hole and the jet that forms there in a single image. This is reported by the European Southern Observatory ESO, which has now also published the image. The ring of the black hole in the center of the galaxy M87 and the immediate surroundings can be seen rather blurred. The researchers look at ‘how the base of a jet connects to the matter swirling around a supermassive black hole’. This process is still not fully understood, the recording could help explain it.

“One of the most mysterious regions of the universe”

Artist’s rendering of the black hole and the jet that forms there (Image: S. Dagnello (NRAO/AUI/NSF))

As ESO explains, most galaxies host a supermassive black hole at their center. Not only does matter fall into them, some also hurl huge streams of matter into space that reach far beyond the respective galaxy. Exactly how that happens has long been a “challenge to astronomy.” Observations like the one presented now should help to answer this question. It was created thanks to the merger of radio telescopes around the world, creating a virtual telescope the size of our home planet.

The ring of the black hole seen in a portion of the image is strongly reminiscent of the very first image of a black hole – also the one in M87 at the time. The similarities are based on comparable approaches: each combined data collected by radio telescopes around the world. But while the Event Horizon Telescope picked up radio emissions at a wavelength of 1.3 millimeters, we now see the black hole at 3.5 millimeters. Only then can you see the start of the jet. At the same time, the ring here is about 50 percent larger than the one in the first photo. So you can see more matter falling into the black hole.

The research group, in which the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy (MPIfR) is also involved, now wants to observe the central black hole of M87 at different radio wavelengths in order to further investigate the formation of the jet. “The coming years will be exciting as we learn more about what is happening near one of the most mysterious regions of the universe,” says Eduardo Ros from the MPIfR. The current recording is presented in the scientific journal Nature.


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