The Event Horizon Telescope collaboration, an international team of radio astronomers that has been staring down the throat of a giant black hole for years, on Wednesday published what it called the most intimate portrait yet of the forces that give rise to quasars, the luminous fountains of energy that can reach across interstellar and intergalactic space and disrupt the growth of distant galaxies.
The black hole in question is a monster 6.5 billion times as massive as the sun, and lies in the center of an enormous elliptical galaxy, Messier 87, about 55 million light-years away in the constellation Virgo. Two years ago, the team photographed it, producing the first-ever image of a black hole; the hitherto invisible entity, a porthole to eternity. It looked like a fuzzy smoke ring, much as Albert Einstein’s equations had predicted a century ago.
The group has spent the last two years extracting more data from their observations about the polarization of the radio waves, which can reveal the shape of the magnetic fields in the hot gas swirling around the hole.
Now, seen through the radio equivalent of polarized sunglasses, the M87 black hole appears as a finely whiskered vortex, like the spinning fan blades of a jet engine, pumping matter into the black hole and energy outward into space.
two papers published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters by the Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration, and in a third paper, by Ciriaco Goddi of Radboud University in the Netherlands and a large international cast, that has been accepted by the same journal.
Dark demons of the cosmos
the Event Horizon Telescope, an international collaboration that now comprises some 300 astronomers from 13 institutions.
The telescope is named after the point of no return around a black hole; beyond the event horizon, all light and matter is consumed. In April 2017, when the telescope spent 10 days observing M87, it consisted of a network of eight radio observatories around the globe — “a telescope as big as the world,” as Dr. Doeleman likes to say, able to spot details as small as an orange on the moon. The team then took two years to process the data. The results came together in April 2019, when Dr. Doeleman and his colleagues presented the first-ever images — radio maps, really — of a black hole, the monster in M87.