Right again, Einstein! Scientists prove that ‘monster’ black hole M87 is SPINNING – in breakthrough that could help to unravel the mystery of the universe’s most enigmatic objects
For the first time, astronomers have found direct evidence that a black hole is spinning.
The discovery was made by studying powerful beams of energy emitted from the first black hole ever imaged by humanity, located at the heart of the neighboring Messier 87 star system.
Scientists have long believed that a black hole’s rotation powers these jets, but only now has this theory been proven.
It’s an ‘exciting’ breakthrough that strengthens Einstein’s theory of relativity and could help unravel the mystery of the universe’s most enigmatic objects.
M87 is a radio galaxy located 55 million light-years from Earth and has a supermassive black hole 6.5 billion times more massive than the Sun at its center.
Discovery: Astronomers have found direct evidence for the first time that a black hole is spinning
Spinning: The discovery was made by studying powerful beams of energy emitted from the first black hole ever imaged by humanity, located at the heart of the neighboring Messier 87 star system. The research found that one of these jets wobbled around a central point on the edge of the black hole, the experts said, much like a spinning top (shown)
WHAT ARE BLACK HOLES?
Black holes are so compact and their gravity is so strong that no form of radiation can escape them – not even light.
They act as intense sources of gravity that suck up dust and gas around them. Stars in galaxies are believed to revolve around their intense gravity.
How they are formed is still poorly understood. Astronomers think these could be formed when a large cloud of gas up to 100,000 times larger than the Sun collapses into a black hole.
Many of these black hole seeds then merge into much larger supermassive black holes, which reside at the center of every known massive galaxy.
Alternatively, a supermassive black hole seed could come from a giant star, about 100 times the mass of the Sun, which eventually forms a black hole after it runs out of fuel and collapses.
When these giant stars die, they also go “supernova,” a massive explosion that pushes matter from the star’s outer layers into deep space.
This was captured by the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) four years ago and described as a fluffy orange ‘doughnut’, but was renamed a ‘skinny ring’ when the image was enhanced by artificial intelligence.
“After the success of imaging black holes in this galaxy with the EHT, the question of whether this black hole is spinning or not is a central concern among scientists,” said Dr. Kazuhiro Hada of the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan and co-author of the book new study.
‘Now the expectation has turned into certainty. This monstrous black hole is indeed spinning.’
Black holes have such a powerful gravity that nothing can escape their clutches, not even light.
However, that doesn’t mean they can’t be seen.
That’s because they are surrounded by an accretion disk of gas and dust swirling right at the edge of the black hole’s event horizon.
Some of this material – which is stripped of gas clouds and stars – is swallowed up by the black hole, but a small amount is also emitted at more than 99.99 percent of the speed of light.
Scientists had previously predicted that the black hole’s spin could be the cause of this astrophysical jet, which was first observed in 1918.
They theorized that charged particles in the accretion disk produced a strong magnetic field that was then whipped up by the spinning black hole in such a way that the particles were thrown out as beams of energy.
Using data from a global network of radio telescopes spanning the period 2000-2022, researchers have now revealed that the jet appears to swing like a pendulum on an eleven-year cycle.
It appeared to wobble around a central point on the edge of the black hole, the experts said, like a spinning top.
“Detecting this precession provides unequivocal evidence that the supermassive black hole in M87 is indeed spinning, expanding our understanding of the nature of supermassive black holes,” the authors said.
Analysis: Using data from a global network of radio telescopes spanning the period 2000-2022, experts have revealed that the jet appears to swing like a pendulum in an eleven-year cycle
Stunning: The supermassive black hole M87 was captured four years ago by the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) and described as a fluffy orange ‘doughnut’ (pictured), but was renamed a ‘skinny ring’ when the image was enhanced by artificial intelligence
Right again! The results are not only consistent with theoretical supercomputer simulations, but also fit Einstein’s theoretical predictions in his general theory of relativity.
Lead author Cui Yuzhu, an astronomer at the Zhejiang Lab in Hangzhou, China, added: ‘We are very pleased with this important finding.
‘Since the misalignment between the black hole and the disk is relatively small and the precession period (wobble) is about eleven years, collecting high-resolution data on the structure of M87 over a period of twenty years and in-depth analysis are essential to achieve this feat.”
The results are not only consistent with theoretical supercomputer simulations, but also fit Einstein’s theoretical predictions in his general theory of relativity.
Researchers hope their discovery can shed light on how black holes form and then evolve into the behemoths we see today.
The research has been published in the journal Nature.
WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT THE GALAXY MESSIER 87?
The elliptical galaxy Messier 87 (M87) is home to several trillion stars, a supermassive black hole, and a family of about 15,000 globular clusters.
By comparison, our Milky Way Galaxy contains only a few hundred billion stars and about 150 globular clusters.
The monstrous M87 is the dominant member of the neighboring Virgo cluster of galaxies, which contains some 2,000 galaxies.
Discovered in 1781 by Charles Messier, this galaxy is located 54 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Virgo.
It can be easily observed with a small telescope, with the most spectacular views in May.
The elliptical galaxy Messier 87 (M87) is home to several trillion stars, a supermassive black hole, and a family of about 15,000 globular clusters. This Hubble image is a composite of individual observations in visible and infrared light
The most striking features of M87 are the blue jet near the center and the numerous star-like globular clusters scattered across the image.
The jet is a black hole-driven stream of material ejected from M87’s core.
As gaseous material from the center of the galaxy hits the black hole, the released energy produces a stream of subatomic particles that are accelerated to speeds approaching the speed of light.
At the center of the Virgo cluster, M87 may have collected some of its many globular clusters by gravitationally pulling them away from nearby dwarf galaxies that appear to have no such clusters today.