Telescopes Unite in Unprecedented Observations of Famous Black Hole

In April 2019, scientists released the first image of a black hole in the galaxy M87 using the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT). However, that remarkable achievement was just the beginning of the science story to be told.

Data from 19 observatories are being released that promise to give unparalleled insight into this black hole and the system it powers, and to improve tests of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity.

“We knew that the first direct image of a black hole would be groundbreaking,” said Kazuhiro Hada of the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, a co-author of a new study being published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters to describe the large set of data. “But to get the most out of this remarkable image, we need to know everything we can about the black hole’s behavior at that time by observing over the entire electromagnetic spectrum.”

The immense gravitational pull of a supermassive black hole can power jets of particles that travel at almost the speed of light across vast distances. M87’s jets produce light spanning the entire electromagnetic spectrum, from radio waves to visible light to gamma rays. The intensity of light across this spectrum gives a different pattern for each black hole. Identifying this pattern gives crucial insight into a black hole’s properties (for example, its spin and energy output), but this is a challenge because the pattern changes with time.

Scientists compensated for this variability by coordinating observations with many of the world’s most powerful telescopes on the ground and in space, collecting light from across the spectrum. This is the largest simultaneous observing campaign ever undertaken on a supermassive black hole with jets.

The NASA telescopes involved in this observing campaign included the Chandra X-ray ObservatoryHubble Space TelescopeNeil Gehrels Swift Observatory, the Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR), and the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope.

Beginning with the EHT’s now iconic image of M87, a new video takes viewers on a journey through the data from each telescope. The video shows data across many factors of ten in scale, both of wavelengths of light and physical size. The sequence begins with the EHT image of the black hole in M87 released in April 2019 (the data was obtained in April 2017). It then moves through images from other radio telescope arrays from around the globe, moving outward in the field of view during each step. (The scale for the width of squares is given in light years in the bottom right hand corner). Next, the view changes to telescopes that detect visible light (Hubble and Swift), ultraviolet light (Swift), and X-rays (Chandra and NuSTAR). The screen splits to show how these images, which cover the same amount of the sky at the same time, compare to one another. The sequence finishes by showing what gamma ray telescopes on the ground, and Fermi in space, detect from this black hole and its jet.

Each telescope delivers different information about the behavior and impact of the 6.5-billion-solar-mass black hole at the center of M87, which is located about 55 million light-years from Earth.

“There are multiple groups revving up to see if their models are a match for these rich observations, and we’re excited to see the whole community use this public data set to help us better understand the deep links between black holes and their jets,” said co-author Daryl Haggard of McGill University in Montreal, Canada.

The data were collected by a team of 760 scientists and engineers from nearly 200 institutions, 32 countries or regions, using observatories funded by agencies and institutions around the globe. The observations were concentrated from the end of March to the middle of April 2017

“This incredible set of observations includes many of the world’s best telescopes,” said co-author Juan Carlos Algaba of the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. “This is a wonderful example of astronomers around the world working together in the pursuit of science.”

The first results show that the intensity of electromagnetic radiation produced by material around M87’s supermassive black hole was the lowest that had ever been seen. This produced ideal conditions for studying the black hole, from regions close to the event horizon out to tens of thousands of light-years.

The combination of data from these telescopes, and current (and future) EHT observations, will allow scientists to conduct important lines of investigation into some of astrophysics’ most significant and challenging fields of study. For example, scientists plan to use these data to improve tests of Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity. Currently, the main hurdles for these tests are uncertainties about the material rotating around the black hole and being blasted away in jets, in particular the properties that determine the emitted light.

A related question that is addressed by today’s study concerns the origin of energetic particles called “cosmic rays,” which continually bombard the Earth from outer space. Their energies can be a million times higher than what can be produced in the most powerful accelerator on Earth, the Large Hadron Collider. The huge jets launched from black holes, like the ones shown in today’s images, are thought to be the most likely source of the highest energy cosmic rays, but there are many questions about the details, including the precise locations where the particles get accelerated. Because cosmic rays produce light via their collisions, the highest-energy gamma rays can pinpoint this location, and the new study indicates that these gamma-rays are likely not produced near the event horizon—at least not in 2017. A key to settling this debate will be comparison to the observations from 2018, and the new data being collected this week.

“Understanding the particle acceleration is really central to our understanding of both the EHT image as well as the jets, in all their ‘colors’,” said co-author Sera Markoff, from the University of Amsterdam. “These jets manage to transport energy released by the black hole out to scales larger than the host galaxy, like a huge power cord. Our results will help us calculate the amount of power carried, and the effect the black hole’s jets have on its environment.”

The release of this new treasure trove of data coincides with the EHT’s 2021 observing run, which leverages a worldwide array of radio dishes, the first since 2018. Last year’s campaign was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the previous year was suspended because of unforeseen technical problems. This very week, EHT astronomers are targeting the supermassive black hole in M87 again, the one in our Galaxy (called Sagittarius A*), together with several more distant black holes for six nights. Compared to 2017 the array has been improved by adding three more radio telescopes: the Greenland Telescope, the Kitt Peak 12-meter Telescope in Arizona, and the NOrthern Extended Millimeter Array (NOEMA) in France.

“With the release of these data, combined with the resumption of observing and an improved EHT, we know many exciting new results are on the horizon,” said co-author Mislav Baloković of Yale University.

The Astrophysical Journal Letter describing these results is available here. Last Updated: Apr 14, 2021Editor: Lee Mohon

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April 15, 2021 2:49 am

Well, at least the asstrologgers are giving up on “Black”, they seem to have filled in their “Holes”, and they’ve coloured in the “Dark”. One of these days, they might even fit a plug to that… what was it? “… a huge power cord…” nyack-yack-yack.
Now all we have left to do, is find the (taxable) link to anthropogenic carbonaceousness, and construct a face nappy large enough to stop this not-so-black, not-hole from spreading covidiocy throughout the far, far away galaxy.

Reply to  paranoid goy
April 15, 2021 3:08 am

“These jets manage to transport energy released by the black hole out to scales larger than the host galaxy, like a huge power cord.”

The above is a bit of nonsense.
Energy released by BH is known as Hawking radiation and is minute in comparison.
Energy in the jets comes from outside of the event horizon not the BH itself. Fast spinning BH, according to E’s TofR would create a space-time vortex channeling EM radiation  away along the  axis of rotation.

Reply to  paranoid goy
April 15, 2021 4:47 am

Well, at least the asstrologgers are giving up on “Black”,

Holly explains..

Well, the thing about a black hole – its main distinguishing feature – is it’s black. And the thing about space, the colour of space, your basic space colour, is black. So how are you supposed to see them?

April 15, 2021 3:08 am

This isn’t an image of a black hole (and neither was the previous one). This is a generated image using false colour compilation of radio signal data of the energetic events surrounding the black hole. It’s the equivalent of measuring Earth’s magnetic field, then producing a false colour image of the magnetic field and calling that an image of the Earth. Some people may say this is a minor difference, but it’s not. We still have not imaged a black hole.

Reply to  ggm
April 15, 2021 4:10 am

And unlikely to get one any time soon, for time being here is an alternative shown in the brackets ( . ). It is suppose to be a singularity but a radius size quoted elsewhere is radius of the event horizon surrounding BH not of the BH itself.

Last edited 1 year ago by vuk
Mario Lento
Reply to  Vuk
April 15, 2021 8:21 am

I think it should be quoted as: “imagery showing the presence of a black hole”. We will see the surface of Jupiter before seeing the blob of mass that is a black hole.

Pariah Dog
Reply to  ggm
April 15, 2021 5:17 am

According to the video, there were images taken that show the black hole in the visible light spectrum. Those just look photos of a star to me – ie, bright and mostly spherical, albeit with some shiny bits coming out the end. Which is exactly what I’d expect to see if there’s a lot of gas getting sucked in.

Reply to  Pariah Dog
April 15, 2021 7:47 am

It’s also exactly what you’d expect to see if the Romulans had just arrived through a tear in the time/space continuum.

Think about THAT.

Pariah Dog
Reply to  Klem
April 15, 2021 9:48 am

Have towel, will travel.

April 15, 2021 5:01 am

M87 – Is It Really a Black Hole? – Part 1 – 5Dr. Lerner , LPPFusion

The science is definitely not settled.

Cosmologists must get back to the lab, and the best way is a fusion crash program.

April 15, 2021 5:14 am

It can not be a true “black hole” from which nothing (including light) escapes as Stephen Hawking originally proposes. It clearly emits radiation at various wavelengths. Hawking admitted he was wrong but researchers who want your money still call it a black hole when it maybe just another large high mass star.

Reply to  cementafriend
April 15, 2021 5:29 am

Being ablist now, are we? Hawkins was cripple, how dare you question him?
At least, that is what I think his fame was made of…
As for Einstein, well, Hollywood hype is not a new thing. Note, though, how one may not mention Tesla without immediately qualifying with “controversial, disturbed, mentally unstable, he married a pigeon…”.
I especially like the bit where they go: “…cosmic rays produce light via their collisions…” therefor the light they see must come from “colliding rays”? I wonder what dress the pigeon will be wearing at that wedding!

Joseph Zorzin
April 15, 2021 5:26 am

In the following video- astronomer Kip Thorn says there is NO matter inside a black hole. He says all the matter that falls in turns into the energy with which the hole distorts time and space:

Reply to  Joseph Zorzin
April 15, 2021 6:11 am

Thorn was the advisor for the movie Interstellar.
As far as I can see, he got the image of Gargantua wrong – it should be heavily redshifted. But that could be artistic freedom of the producers.

April 15, 2021 7:58 am

M87’s central BH is an ideal one to study because it’s very big & somewhat active, but more important is that the surrounding area & line-of-sight is mostly clear of gas and dust.

Last edited 1 year ago by beng135
April 15, 2021 8:41 am

Einstein said There Are No Black Holes

And Oppenheimer also in 1939 wrote about asymptotic black holes, neglecting rotation.
See links at the video. A rare publication collection!
So it is fake news that Hawking contradicted Einstein when he wrote about turbulent ephemeral black holes :
Information Preservation and Weather Forecasting for Black Holes

It sure looks like Thorn started the mythology, even referring to Einsteins1939 paper, neglecting Einstein´s refutation. It is fitting Thorn ended up in Hollywood with Interstellar.

So what is going at galactic center´s is not understood – the incredible jets are rather awkward!

Last edited 1 year ago by bonbon
Hoyt Clagwell
April 15, 2021 8:50 am

And somehow I knew the first image of a black hole would look like a fuzzy blob. Just like the first image of a single atom, or the first image of Bigfoot, a flying saucer, and a ghost.

Stephen Richards
April 15, 2021 11:24 am

Thank goodness there is still some genuine science being done in the world. It make me feel happier to say I’m a physicist

Mr. Lee
April 15, 2021 12:23 pm

Huh. Looks a lot like BLM’s bank account.

Mickey Reno
April 15, 2021 12:35 pm

The headline at major Progressive research universities is:


Louis Hunt
April 15, 2021 3:54 pm

Why do articles like this try to mislead readers? These are not observations of a black hole but the area of space surrounding a supposed black hole. Everything observed is outside the event horizon, and none of the observations are of the black hole itself. The jets are particles that were rapidly rotating around the black hole and managed to escape before ever reaching it. They were never part of the black hole itself. So why the misleading headline claiming to observe an actual black hole?

April 15, 2021 5:55 pm

Sticking with the contrarian nature of this site, has no-one noticed that black holes are not supposed to have a magnetic field?
This is yet another failure of consensus science. The prediction is no magnetic field. Then they observe an incredibly intense magnetic field. So then they start making up other ideas on why something not supposed to have a magnetic field, actually has one.
The real reason could be, there are no black holes in the real universe. Google “MECO”. At least a MECO is predicted to have an intense magnetic field.

John Tillman
Reply to  kzb
April 16, 2021 3:07 pm

Of course black holes were supposed to have magnetic fields. In 2017, they were however found weaker than thought.

April 15, 2021 7:28 pm

Unite in precedented inference from alien signals of assumed, asserted, unknown, plausible fidelity. They want to believe.

April 15, 2021 7:29 pm

Is it a black hole or black whore? h/t NAACP. Can we rule out diversitist motive in processing their observation?

Last edited 1 year ago by n.n
James F. Evans
April 16, 2021 1:42 am

Hypothesis: not a so-called “black hole”, rather a plasmoid, an electro-magnetic entity.

A high density electro-magnetic entity.

James F. Evans
Reply to  James F. Evans
April 16, 2021 10:02 am

It needs to be added: under condition of high electrical stress.

The “jet” reaching out from M87 many lights years is an electro-magnetic structure, consisting of plasma, ions & electrons.

There is nothing known about nature that proves gravity is a superior force to electromagnetism, indeed, each is a fundamental force of nature.

Gravity does not explain the cohesive structure (the “jet”) observed extending multiple light years from the source (the center of M87 galaxy).

Failure to address the force (electromagnetism) that is observed is a type of falsification via omission.

April 16, 2021 10:39 am

Looking forward to the launch of the Webb telescope this year some time. If the launch and deployment are successful it will be able to look further back in space/time than any observatory before and should provide information that helps to answer so many questions.

As for the naysayers here. I agree it was disingenuous to imply that they had directly imaged a black hole. However you won’t find me dissing any project that I judge to be real science that is expanding our knowledge. And this is one of those in my judgment.

James F. Evans
Reply to  rah
April 16, 2021 2:35 pm


Hokey Schtick
April 17, 2021 3:01 am

There are no black holes.

Poems of our Climate
Reply to  Hokey Schtick
April 18, 2021 10:57 am

In this situation, Black Hole is a name given to help those who feel uncomfortable with the unknown. The process of labeling unknowns (as if they are known things) is the pretense of discovery.

It would be much healthier and more intelligent to develop the awareness of the unknowns rather than assigning catchy names.

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