Astronomers have captured the first direct image of a black hole expelling a powerful jet.
Data gathered from several telescopes worldwide shows a glowing doughnut at the heart of a galaxy known as Messier 87 (M87), which is around 55 million light years from Earth.
The image also shows a bright, mighty jet emerging from the black hole that is connected with the matter swirling around it.
Jae-Young Kim, from the Kyungpook National University in South Korea and the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Germany, said: “This new image completes the picture by showing the region around the black hole and the jet at the same time.”
The M87 black hole is supermassive, around 6.5 billion times more massive than the Sun.
An image of this back hole was first captured four years ago, which showed a fuzzy, fiery doughnut-shaped object but not its jet.
Using data from 14 telescopes, which included Global Millimetre VLBI Array (GMVA), the Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimetre Array (Alma), and the Greenland Telescope (GLT), astronomers were able to create an image of the M87 black hole showing a powerful jet emerging from its shadow – the dark region encircled by the bright light ring.
The European Southern Observatory said the current image was obtained using radio light emitted at a longer wavelength, which made the jet visible.
Thomas Krichbaum, of the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy, said: “At this wavelength, we can see how the jet emerges from the ring of emission around the central supermassive black hole.”
The researchers said they will continue to investigate how supermassive black holes emit powerful jets – one of the galaxy’s most mysterious features.
Eduardo Ros, from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy, said: “We plan to observe the region around the black hole at the centre of M87 at different radio wavelengths to further study the emission of the jet.
“Such simultaneous observations would allow the team to disentangle the complicated processes that happen near the supermassive black hole.
“The coming years will be exciting, as we will be able to learn more about what happens near one of the most mysterious regions in the Universe.”
The observations are described in the journal Nature.