- Scientists recently captured the powerful magnetic fields of a black hole with a camera.
- The figure shows that these magnetic fields are strong enough to prevent the fall of some matter.
- Non-retractable matter returns to space in the form of a jet.
- See more news on the Insider business page.
When scientists published the first photograph of a black hole in 2019, the image looked more like a stain than a detailed image. But a new photo released Wednesday offers a sharper view of the powerful magnetic fields that revolve around the inner edge of the black hole.
Since 2009, scientists from the International Horizon Horizon Telescope (EHT) Collaboration have been observing a black hole at the center of the supergiant galaxy Messier 87 (M87), which is about 54 million light-years from Earth.
Most of the matter approaching the edge of the black hole is sucked into the event horizon – the limit after which the gravity of the black hole is so strong that it eats everything, including light. But some particles manage to escape the abyss and instead launch them into space in the form of jets that extend far beyond the edge of the galaxy.
Before their new research was published on Wednesday, scientists from EHT knew that magnetic fields play a role in ejecting matter from this black hole and the like.
“Open question from first image [in 2019] it was exactly what the structure of these magnetic fields was and how strong they were, ”Andrew Chael, a NASA Hubble associate at Princeton’s Center for Theoretical Science, told Insider.
After observing the new image, the scientists found that the magnetic fields surrounding the M87 black hole are actually quite strong – about 2 to 50 times stronger than the Earth’s magnetic field.
“They kind of pile up on a black hole and bounce off falling gasoline,” Chael said. “Part of the gas intrudes, but part of the magnetic field accelerates over really long distances.”
Traces of light
Chael said he was pleasantly surprised by the level of detail revealed in the new photo.
“One of the things we all expected from the first pictures was that they could be very difficult to interpret,” he said.
His team was able to analyze the magnetic fields of a black hole because of the light emitted by the black hole’s accretion disk or the outer ring of hot matter. When this matter encounters a strong magnetic field, light waves become polarized – meaning they prefer to travel in a certain direction.
Polarized light is therefore a vivid indicator of the presence of magnetic fields. By observing the direction of this light in their images, EHT scientists were able to map the lines of the magnetic field – and eventually estimate their strength.
Their new research marks the first time that astronomers have been able to measure polarization so close to the edge of a black hole.
More telescopes will help in future black hole investigations
EHT scientists used a global network of eight telescopes to capture their first image of the M87 black hole. Chael said the group is adding more telescopes to its lineup in hopes of eventually collecting the video.
Such images can detect the movement of a black hole as it ejects particles into space.
“As he launches the material into this jet, can we see the dynamics of what’s going on?” Chael said. “Can we follow the films of material being thrown along these fields? That’s one of the big goals in the coming years.”
Scientists should at least be able to get a clearer picture of a large jet of black hole, spanning several thousand light-years. At the moment, Chael said, the jet in the images seems muffled as it moves away from the black hole.
“Something we’d really like to be able to see is the basis of the jet in the picture,” Chael said. “If we had a few more telescopes in our lineup, we should be able to see it.”