Astronomers have captured an unprecedented look at nearby radio galaxy Centaurus A, seeing a “monstrous” jet being unleashed by its supermassive black hole.
The research suggests that black holes do behave similarly, even when they are wildly different masses.
The new pictures come from the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) collaboration, who famously captured the first ever image of a black hole in the galaxy known as M87. While that image gave major new insights into the behaviour of black holes, it has remained unclear whether those findings would also apply to less massive or vigorous ones.
Now scientists have turned radio telescopes towards another example, looking at a galaxy that is less massive than M87 and a supermassive black hole that accumulates less material than its one.
When examined through radio wavelengths, the nearby galaxy known as Centaurus A shines out as one of the biggest and brightest objects in the sky.
It has become a particular favourite of astronomers for study, after it was identified as a radio source in 1949. Astronomers have looked at it in detail through a range of observatories, examining it through radio, infrared, optical, X-ray, and gamma-rays.
Those examinations have shown that at the heart of Centaurus A dwells a vast black hole, as massive as 66 million suns. The new research relies on data that allows astronomers to see that balck hole in more detail than ever.
“This allows us for the first time to see and study an extragalactic radio jet on scales smaller than the distance light travels in one day. We see up close and personally how a monstrously gigantic jet launched by a supermassive black hole is being born”, said astronomer Michael Janssen.
The data gathered as part of the research shows the jet 10 times higher frequency and 16 times sharper resolution, the researchers say. The precise detail means that the source of the radio waves can be precisely traced to its position within the black hole.