Scientists have released a new photo of a supermassive black hole at the center of the galaxy (approximately 55 million light-years from Earth), giving viewers a higher quality picture of the first black hole that was ever imaged.
An image of the black hole was first revealed back in 2019 by the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) collaboration but the newest image, which was released on Wednesday, shows the body of the black hole in polarized light. To capture the black hole, the EHT collaboration used eight ground-based radio telescopes and combined their power to create an Earth-sized virtual telescope, which allows for unprecedented sensitivity and resolution (the resolution is apparently sharp enough to measure an orange on the moon from Earth).
The ability to see the black hole in polarized light could allow scientists to measure the polarization, along with how magnetic fields are able to operate close to a black hole. As a result, astronomers are able to learn more about how energetic jets of material moving at almost the speed of light are launched from the core of the black hole’s galaxy, Messier 87 or M87.
“This unique observation means that for the first time we can map the magnetic fields around a black hole right into the region of the event horizon,” said Derek Ward-Thompson, a member of the Event Horizon Telescope team. “This is exciting because astronomers believe that the magnetic fields are responsible for launching ionized material millions of light-years into space in what we call ‘jets’, which can be ten times larger than the entire galaxy.”
Unless you are a scientist who is trying to better measure the polarization of black holes, what this ultimately means for you (and most of us) is that we now have a second totally awesome photo of a supermassive black hole’s swirling magnetic field.