The scientists that revealed the very first photograph of a black hole have added polarized light to the image, offering a more detailed look at its magnetic fields.
According to New Scientist, the group of astronomers working on the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) project have released a polarized-based image of the black hole that they first captured in 2019. The new photo offers a much sharper view of the black hole, particularly the swirling magnetic fields surrounding the edge of the cosmic body, which may reveal more about the jet process in space.
The group’s most recent study, published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, presents new findings of how the supermassive black hole, located at the center of the M87 galaxy, 55 million light-years away, launches powerful jets of matter from its core. The formation of these jets has long been a mystery to researchers, but the newly-illuminated magnetic fields may provide some important clues.
“The polarised light has these curved swoops like a spiral,” said Sara Issaoun, an EHT team member at Radboud University in the Netherlands. “This tells us that the magnetic field around the black hole is ordered, and this is really important because only an ordered magnetic field can launch jets – a scrambled magnetic field cannot do that.”
The Event Horizon Telescope itself is actually made up of eight telescopes that are linked together to create one giant radio telescope that orbits the Earth and uses the planet’s rotation to aid in capturing incredible images that can be examined back on the ground. In this case, the EHT team measured the polarised light near the black hole to determine the strength of its magnetic field.
As noted by the report, the reading of the black hole’s magnetic field came out somewhere between 1 and 30 gauss (units of magnetic induction), which is “up to about 50 times the strength of Earth’s magnetic field as measured at the planet’s poles, where it is strongest.” This measurement helped researchers to gain a better understanding of how the black hole and its jets may work.
“This jet process is totally amazing – something the size of our solar system can shoot out a jet that pierces through entire galaxies and even galaxy neighborhoods,” Issaoun explained. “Now we’re really seeing the magnetic field close to the black hole for the first time, and that’s connecting it to the jet, which is the most powerful process in the universe.”
Moving forward, the scientists collaborating on this program plan to expand their research by adding a few more telescopes to the EHT network in order to gather more information about the black hole and its jet production. Specifically, they hope to learn about the process of the astrophysical jets created by the supermassive black hole at the center of the galaxy.
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Towards the end of 2019, NASA released a black hole simulation that showed how gravity warps light within a black hole, and then, a couple of months later, at the beginning of 2020, scientists detected the biggest explosion in the galaxy, which was believed to be from a supermassive black hole. For more on black holes, read about how one appeared to break the law of physics itself.