If you thought the first image of a black hole in the distant galaxy M87 was something special two years ago, a newly released video that brings together the work of 19 observatories will just blow you away. In 2019, the Event Horizon (EHT) telescope captured the 25 billion-mile-wide black hole for the first time, but don’t let the name fool you into imagining a telescope with an astronomer’s eye on the viewfinder.
The M87 – or Messier 87 – is, at least astronomically, close. Approximately 55 million light-years from Earth, it is one of the most massive galaxies in the local universe and was first identified by Charles Messier in 1781.
However, the black hole in its center holds its mysteries much longer. An example of a supermassive black hole, it forced astronomers to think sideways when they wanted to take a picture of it: ultimately, black holes by definition capture light. EHT collected data from eight different telescopes and collected this information to create an image of the glowing gas surrounding the ink-black paste in the center, with gravitational bending causing shadowing.
The picture became a title in 2019, but now EHT offers again with more tools and more details. “We knew that the first direct image of a black hole would be innovative,” said Kazuhiro Hada of the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, co-author of a new study published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters to describe the new data. “But to get the most out of this remarkable image, we need to know everything we can about the behavior of the black hole at that time by observing the entire electromagnetic spectrum.”
This time, 19 observatories – including five operated by NASA – were harnessed to make an unprecedented orbit of the M87 at different wavelengths of light. He relies on the fact that the gravitational pull of a black hole can create jets of particles traveling at almost the speed of light across the entire electromagnetic spectrum. These jets propagate throughout the universe, enveloping radio waves through visible light to gamma rays, with various kits assembled from 19 different instruments.
The video begins with the original EHT image and then bends through the grids of radio telescopes through visible and then ultraviolet light and then X-rays. Finally, there is data from gamma-ray telescopes on Earth, along with Fermi in NASA space.
It took 760 scientists and engineers in 200 institutions and in March and April 2017 to collect the huge data set. It’s not just for fun, with the potential for new scientific breakthroughs to be unlocked.
“For example,” NASA explains, “scientists plan to use this data to improve tests of Einstein’s theory of general relativity.” Currently, the main obstacles to these tests are uncertainty about the material that rotates around the black hole and is ejected in jets, in particular the properties that determine the light emitted. ”
In the meantime, this could help us understand “cosmic rays,” how they form, and the potential impact they have on the rest of the universe. “These jets manage to transport energy released from the black hole to a scale larger than the host galaxy, such as a huge power cord,” explains Sera Markoff of the University of Amsterdam and co-author of the study. “Our results will help us calculate the amount of power transferred and the effect of black hole jets on its environment.”