Head’s up space fans: A new picture of the supermassive black hole lurking in the galaxy M87 just dropped.
The new image looks a lot like the previous, headline-grabbing shot revealed in 2019 (SN: 4/10/19). The main difference is that the brightest spot around the black hole has shifted counterclockwise by about 30 degrees, researchers report January 18 in Astronomy & Astrophysics. This is probably due to material sloshing around in the black hole’s accretion disk as it gets consumed.
But other aspects have not changed. A bright ring and the black hole’s shadow appear almost exactly the same size as before. This helps confirm that M87’s black hole is the type predicted by Einstein’s general theory of relativity and not some more exotic or unexpected variety, says astrophysicist Lia Medeiros of Princeton University.
“In science, it’s always really important to do the same or similar experiments multiple times,” Medeiros says. It helps “make sure you’re not fooling yourself, and that your results are reproducible.”
Medeiros is part of an international collaboration called the Event Horizon Telescope, or EHT, which used a network of radio telescopes around the globe to zoom in on M87’s heart, about 55 million light-years from Earth (SN: 4/10/19). Previously, all images from the EHT — including those of the supermassive black hole in our own galaxy’s center — used data taken in 2017 or earlier (SN: 5/12/22). The new picture is the first to incorporate observations from 2018.
In the interim, the EHT team added another telescope to their collection: the Greenland Telescope in northwestern Greenland. Because the technique the researchers use, known as interferometry, grows better with more facilities, the new image contains previously inaccessible details about M87’s behemoth black hole, which the researchers will dig into later.
Future images using data taken in years after 2018 will help physicists learn more about the complex interactions between the black hole’s magnetic field and the plasma spinning around it (SN: 3/24/21).