Green Bank captures image of supermassive black hole
The Green Bank observatory in West Virginia recently helped capture a new image of a supermassive black hole which reveals new information about a mystery surrounding black holes.
For years, scientists have known that black holes suck in stars, dust and gas. But they’re also finding that a huge amount of energy is shooting out from the edge of them.
Physicists are still stumped on the mathematics of how, and why, this occurs.
When Virginia Tech physics professor Nahum Arav showed this new image to his students, they were inspired to sit down and map out theoretical equations, to explain what they were looking at.
“This image is helping us to try to decipher the nature of these jets that are coming straight from the vicinity of the black hole,” said Arav.
It could be that objects shed this energy before they slip into a black hole.
“The black hole itself you can’t see because even light cannot escape from it,” said Arav.
That’s why scientists use radio telescopes to collect data around black holes; they cannot be photographed using a camera.
The Green Bank telescope is one of 16 radio observatories around the globe that work in tandem to produce images of black holes.
Together, they can simulate a telescope the size of earth that can gather data and create high resolution images, like this one of the black hole at the center of a galaxy known as M87.
Because it's one of the largest telescopes in North America, the Green Bank telescope was pivotal in helping the group get a more detailed picture of the black hole, linking data from Europe and North and South America.
“If the Green Bank telescope hadn’t been able to participate, then scientists might not have been able to link up to act as one giant telescope,” said scientist Toney Minter, who oversees operations of the Green Bank Telescope.
Harshal Gupta, NSF Program Officer for the Green Bank Observatory, added, “It is exciting to see the different types of radio telescopes supported by National Science Foundation work synergistically… to enable the big picture view of M87’s black hole and jet.”
The image, which was published in Nature magazine, is the first of its kind to show not just a supermassive blackhole, but also the energy jetting out from its edge.
Eduardo Ros, an astronomer and the Scientific Coordinator for Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI) at the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy added, “We’ve seen the ring before, but now we see the jet. This puts the ring in context— and it’s bigger than we thought. If you think of it like a fire-breathing monster, before, we could see the dragon and the fire, but now we can see the dragon breathing the fire.”