A few years ago, astronomers first saw a patch of cosmic darkness long thought invisible: a black hole, a powerful, elusive beast so dense that not even light can escape its gravity .
Black holes are known to gobble up anything that comes near them – gas, stars, planets and even other black holes. But this fuzzy, donut-like black hole (more later refined by AI into a thin ring) in the M87 galaxy is slowly breaking the stereotypes of black holes. On the one hand, this seems to give back the universe losing energy.
Two months ago, this individual a supermassive black hole about 55 million light years from Earth, known as M87*was studied using the Telescope Event Horizon (EHT), which combines data from several radio telescopes around the world to create a virtual Earth-sized telescope. Observations showed that M87* was spinningcarrying with it its magnetic field and the neighboring spatial and temporal fabric.
Related: First black hole photographed by humanity confirmed to be spinning, study finds
Earlier this month, astronomers analyzing an image of the black hole obtained by the EHT in 2021 found that its magnetic field is strong enough to sometimes prevent it from engulfing neighboring material.
Now, a new analysis of the image by a subset of that team has revealed that the magnetic field is also responsible for slowing the spinning black hole, like a top decelerating over time.
“We were able to say conclusively that the 2021 EHT image shows that energy is flowing near the black hole,” Andrew Chael, an astrophysicist at Princeton University in New Jersey, told Space.com. lead author of the new study. “We need future, more sensitive images to determine 100% whether energy is flowing from the black hole surface itself.”
The energy emitted into the depths of space during this self-braking process flows like “million-light-year-long Jedi lightsabers” via structures called relativistic jets, which extend up to 10 times longer than our planet. Milky Way galaxy, study co-author Alexandru Lupsasca of Vanderbilt University in Tennessee said in a statement. statement.
“If you took the Earth, turned it into TNT and exploded it 1,000 times a second for millions and millions of years, that’s how much energy we’d extract from M87,” said George Wong, co-author of the study. Princeton University.
The fact that black holes can lose energy was one of the predictions of Einstein’s theory of relativity. Scientists knew that some of the energy loss could be due to magnetic fields, but they didn’t know exactly how the process takes place.
The results of the new study suggest that the energy leaving the black hole goes in the direction of its magnetic field. The study team also considers a purely theoretical but nonetheless exciting possibility that energy expelled from M87* could flow toward another black hole.
It’s also likely that the energy flow powers the jet exiting the black hole, which previous research shows varies over an 11-year cycle. Models show that the amount of energy coming out of the black hole is similar to that needed by the jets, although astronomers are not yet completely sure.
Future observations of M87* with EHT could bring them closer to a definitive answer. A next-generation EHT is also in the works, which is expected to add more antennas to the virtual telescope array to obtain sharper and maybe even videos black holes.
“I think it’s extremely likely that the black hole is powering the jet, but we can’t prove it,” Lupsasca said. “Again.”
This research was described in a paper published last week in The Astrophysical Journal.