New Black Hole Image Reveals Its 'Most Mysterious' Feature

One astronomer called it "a lethal, powerful, astronomical ray gun."

Astronomers released the most detailed image of a black hole yet, one that revealed its “most mysterious” feature: the bright jets of energy that shoot out for thousands of light-years.

The new image from the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) collaboration used polarized light ― filtering it, much like polarized sunglasses ― to show the area around the black hole. And that, in turn, provided the sharpest look yet at those energy jets.

“Most matter lying close to the edge of a black hole falls in,” the collaboration said in a news release. “However, some of the surrounding particles escape moments before capture and are blown far out into space in the form of jets.”

That leads to jets of energy and matter that extend some 5,000 light-years from the center, as shown in the new image, the first-ever detailed look at the region just outside the black hole:

EHT Collaboration

Janna Levin, astrophysicist and professor of physics and astronomy at Barnard College of Columbia University, who is not part of the EHT team, told The New York Times that the jets in the new image are essentially “a lethal, powerful, astronomical ray gun that extends thousands of light-years.”

“The newly published polarized images are key to understanding how the magnetic field allows the black hole to ‘eat’ matter and launch powerful jets,” EHT collaboration member Andrew Chael, a NASA Hubble Fellow at the Princeton Center for Theoretical Science, said in a news release.

Launched in 2009, the EHT collaboration is a multinational effort involving some 300 scientists using a network of radio telescopes around the world to study black holes. Two years ago, the collaboration released the first-ever image of a black hole, a fuzzy ring that captured the public imagination.

The polarized new image offers an even clearer look at the object at the center of the galaxy Messier 87, or M87, about 55 million light-years away and in the constellation Virgo as seen from Earth:

The next step may be more than just an image.

“Even now we are designing a next-generation EHT that will allow us to make the first black hole movies,” Sheperd Doeleman, founding director of the EHT collaboration, said in a news release. “Stay tuned for true black hole cinema.”

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