One year on from publishing the first ever image of a black hole, the team behind that historic breakthrough is back with a new picture . This time we’re being shown the base of a colossal jet of excited gas, or plasma, screaming away. from another black hole at near light-speed.
The scene was actually in the “background” of the original target .
The scientists who operate the Event Horizon Telescope describe the jet in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics . They say their studies of the region of space known as 3C 279 will help them better understand the physics that drives behavior in the vicinity of black holes. (3C) is what astronomers term a quasar – the extremely bright core of a very distant galaxy. This one is about 5.5 billion light-years from Earth. It is well known, and was used as the calibration target to align the performance of the EHT’s eight individual radio telescopes when they simultaneously made their astonishing map of the supermassive black hole at the center of Galaxy M The remarkable resolution achieved by the EHT – put to such great effect with M – – pays dividends again with 3C , because we see previously unrecognized features.
3C also has a supermassive black hole at its heart. It’s about one billion times the mass of our Sun and its gravity is pulling in and shredding any stars or gas that get too close. This material is likely being accreted on to a disc that winds around the hole, but some of it is being shot back out into space along two jets moving in opposite directions. (In previous images of 3C) , we’ve been able to detect the outline of the jet coming that moves towards us (the one moving in the opposite direction is not detected). But in the new EHT picture, we can resolve detail close to the point where this jet leaves the black hole. What’s more, this base area seems twisted and somewhat offset from the main axis of the jet. “It’s curious, said EHT Collaboration member Dr Ziri Younsi. “We’re seeing a region that’s actually pretty close to the black hole. It could be an interaction layer where the jet couples to the accretion disc and extracts all of its energy from the black hole.
“We don’t really understand how jets are powered by black holes. Black holes, when they rotate rapidly, are the most efficient liberators of energy in the Universe, but the mechanism by which the jet can extract that energy is unknown. There are a few ideas, but we’re not sure yet which one is the right one, “the University College London, UK, researcher told BBC News.
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