A close look at a black hole’s jet

Creating the first direct image of a black hole is a hard act to follow, but it seems there are more goodies to be had from the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) Collaboration.

A year on, astronomers say they have extracted new information from data EHT collected on the distant quasar 3C 279 and observed a jet produced by a supermassive black hole in incredible detail. 

A team led by Jae-Young Kim from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Germany was able to trace the jet back to its launch point, close to where violently variable radiation from across the electromagnetic spectrum arises. 

The results are presented in a paper to be published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

3C 279 contains a black hole about one billion times more massive than the Sun. Twin jets of plasma erupt from the black hole and disc system at velocities close to the speed of light: a consequence of the enormous forces unleashed as matter descends into the black hole’s immense gravity.

To capture the new image, the EHT used very long baseline interferometry (VLBI), which synchronises and links radio dishes around the world to form one huge virtual telescope. It can resolve objects as small as 20 micro-arcseconds on the sky – equivalent, the researchers say, to someone on Earth identifying an orange on the Moon. 

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