In 2019, the first-ever image of a black hole wowed the world. And now, the team at the Event Horizon Telescope has released an updated version, this time revealing how the supermassive black hole looks in polarized light.
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In April of 2019 scientists working for the Event Horizon Telescope collaboration stunned the world when they released the first ever picture of a black hole. This photo of the supermassive black hole at the heart of the galaxy M87 has since become iconic. But the scientists from the EHT were not finished yet, and after almost two years of poring over their data, they’ve released a new version of their famous photo, one that could help solve a major mystery about black holes.
The mystery involves jets of matter that supermassive black holes can launch off into space at nearly the speed of light. The galaxy M87 has a black hole at its center with just such a jet, one that extends for at least 5,000 light years.
Nearly two decades before the EHT’s iconic image,
the Hubble Space Telescope captured another jaw-dropping picture of M87 that clearly showed this jet spearing its way across the cosmos.
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The Most Intimate Portrait Yet of a Black Hole
Paradoxically, despite their light-swallowing capability, black holes are the most luminous objects in the universe. Material — gas, dust, shredded stars — that falls into a black hole is heated to millions of degrees as it swirls around the drain of doom in a dense maelstrom of electromagnetic fields. Most of that matter falls into the black hole, but some is pushed out, like toothpaste, by enormous pressures and magnetic fields. How all of this energy arises and is marshaled remains unknown to astronomers.
Telescopes Unite in Unprecedented Observations of Famous Black Hole
M87’s jets produce light spanning the entire electromagnetic spectrum, from radio waves to visible light to gamma rays. The intensity of light across this spectrum gives a different pattern for each black hole. Identifying this pattern gives crucial insight into a black hole’s properties (for example, its spin and energy output), but this is a challenge because the pattern changes with time.
Quantum Astronomy Could Create Telescopes Hundreds of Kilometers Wide
At the optical wavelengths underpinning the gorgeous pictures from the Hubble Space Telescope and many other famed facilities, today’s interferometers can only combine light from instruments that are a few hundred meters apart at most. That may be set to change as astronomers turn to quantum physicists for help to start connecting optical telescopes that are tens, even hundreds, of kilometers away from one another.
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