Supermassive Black Hole Captured in 'Unprecedented Detail' - Scientists

  • Supermassive Black Hole Captured in 'Unprecedented Detail' - Scientists

Supermassive Black Hole Captured in 'Unprecedented Detail' - Scientists

Target of the observations was the quasar 3C 279, a galaxy in the constellation Virgo that scientists classify as a quasar because a point of light at its center shines ultra-bright and flickers as massive amounts of gases and stars fall into the giant black hole there.

But, Younsi added, questions remain, including what exactly the plasma of the jet is composed of, and exactly how the jet couples with the black hole.

It's been about a year since the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) Collaboration released the first image of a black hole.

In earlier photos of 3C 279, we have been in a position to detect the define of the jet coming that strikes in the direction of us (the one shifting in the other way is just not detected).

Scientists involved in the research also think that the jet's odd structure could help explain why the material in the jet appears to be moving toward us at a whopping 20 times the speed of light, a complex optical illusion.

"A lot of that matter [around the black hole] is fated just to cross the event horizon and never return, but some of it can be launched along those powerful magnetic field lines which thread the black hole, and that is what the jet is", mentioned Dr Ziri Younsi of University College London, a co-author of the research.

It's one of these bursting jets that the EHT team has now resolved in unprecedented detail, tracing it all the way down to the accretion disk of the black hole in 3C 279.

Michael Hecht, astronomer from the MIT/Haystack Observatory and EHT Deputy Project Director, concludes: "We will now devote our full concentration to the completion of scientific publications from the 2017 data and dive into the analysis of data obtained with the enhanced EHT array in 2018". Indeed a close-up image exhibits a blob close to the black hole that seems to be barely off the axis of the remainder of the jet. Most material in the accretion disk eventually ends up in the black hole.

It's no accident that 3C 279 was chosen as one of the objects for EHT to do its magic on.

At the center of most galaxies is a supermassive black hole. But 3C 279 is one of the brightest sources of gamma rays we've ever observed. The worldwide team led by Jae-Young Kim from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn studied the shape of the plasma beam near its baseline, where high-energy and variable gamma radiation is believed to be generated.

"For 3C 279, the combination of the transformative resolution of the EHT and new computational tools for interpreting its data have proved revelatory", says astrophysicist Avery Broderick from the Perimeter Institute in Canada.

"What was a single radio "core" is now resolved into two independent complexes. 3C 279 was the first source in astronomy to show superluminal motions, and today, nearly fifty years later, still has some surprises for us".

"More details of the source properties, such as the magnetic field configuration and detailed jet energy balance, will be subject to follow-up studies", the authors conclude in the paper.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic closed observatories within the network and forced the Event Horizon Telescope to cancel its annual observing campaign for 2020.

The EHT collaboration continues extracting information from the exquisite data collected in its global campaign in April 2017.

3C 279 additionally has a supermassive black hole at its coronary heart.

The remarkable resolution achieved by the EHT - put to such great effect with M87 - pays dividends again with 3C 279, because we see previously unrecognised features. As we told a year ago: "this is just the beginning".