The black hole in the center of the M87 galaxy (Virgo A Galaxy), with a mass 6.5 billion times greater than the mass of the Sun, is the first object of this type that scientists managed to “photograph”. In April 2019, using the Event Horizon Telescope, researchers obtained the first-ever image of a black hole, or rather the bright accretion disk that surrounds its event horizon (i.e. the sphere around the black hole).
Evidence of the power of the black hole in M87. She actually turns
An accretion disk is material that orbits a black hole, attracted by its powerful gravity. But only some of this matter ultimately falls below the event horizon – a boundary beyond which nothing (including light) can escape from the black hole. The rest of the matter is fired at enormous speed into intergalactic space. The gas and dust ejected by the black hole in turn creates a gigantic jet stretching for over 5,000 light years, which was first observed in 1918.
For decades, scientists have wondered how it is possible that matter ejected by black holes accelerates to a speed exceeding 99.99%. the speed of light (i.e. almost 300,000 km/s). According to Albert Einstein’s special theory of relativity, no object with mass can exceed it, but can reach a speed very close to the speed of light. However, this requires an almost infinite amount of energy.
Theoretical models suggested that the rotation of the black hole itself was responsible for generating the enormous speeds of matter in the jets. However, there was no evidence of this. Now scientists have finally managed to find them.
A powerful black hole is spinning. After 22 years of observation, there is evidence
According to a study published in, scientists have found evidence for the first time in history that the black hole in M87 actually rotates around its own axis. Researchers used observations of a powerful object conducted between 2000 and 2022, noting the precession (the phenomenon of changing the direction of the rotation axis) of the jet. The site of the jet’s formation moved around the central point in a repeating 11-year cycle, then returned to the same location. A misalignment between the black hole’s rotation axis and the accretion disk was also demonstrated.
According to the study’s authors, this discovery provides evidence that the black hole in M87 is indeed spinning. “The detection of this precession provides clear evidence that the supermassive black hole in M87 is indeed spinning, advancing our understanding of the nature of supermassive black holes,” the authors of the paper concluded in Nature.
It is worth recalling that in 2020, scientists led by Polish astrophysicist Maciej Wielgus observed for the first time the “wobble” of the same black hole in the M87 galaxy. Researchers then managed to record the changing accretion disk and the very turbulent processes taking place within it (more on this in the text below).
After the success of imaging a black hole in this galaxy with the Event Horizon Telescope, the main concern for scientists has become whether the black hole is spinning or not. Now suspicion turned to certainty. This monstrous black hole actually spins
– said in a conversation with Dr. Kazuhiro Hada from the National Astronomical Observatory in Japan, co-author of the work.
Scientists believe that the matter in the black hole’s accretion disk generates a strong magnetic field, which – as a result of its rotation – is “rolled up” by the black hole. This, in turn, is supposed to condition the formation of powerful jets and accelerate the matter ejected in them to speeds close to the speed of light.
It is still unclear how such massive black holes form
The authors of the work hope that their discovery will also allow us to learn more about the formation of supermassive black holes, such as the one in M87 or in the center of the Milky Way (an image of which was also obtained three years later – in May 2022). It is still unclear how such massive objects can be created.
Ziri Younsi of University College London told The Guardian that the fact that M87’s black hole is spinning and its jet is precessing could mean that “something really crazy and violent” happened in its past.
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