Scientists Confirm Black Hole in the Center of Galaxy M87 is Rotating After 22 Years of Observation

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Image source: Yuzhu Cui et al. 2023

After 22 years of observations, scientists have confirmed that the supermassive black hole at the center of the M87 galaxy is indeed rotating. It was observed that its jet, akin to a fencer’s sword, traces a circular path in space with an amplitude of up to 10 degrees. This “sword,” which stretches over 5,000 light-years, is equally deadly to anything that crosses its path, much like a weapon in the hands of a skilled fighter.

The jet, or stream of matter, emanating from the center of the supermassive black hole in the M87 galaxy, was first noticed in 1918 by astronomer Heber Curtis. The image of this jet was first captured using the Hubble Space Telescope. Furthermore, this black hole became the first one to have its image visualized through direct observation. To be precise, the Event Horizon Telescope, a network of radio telescopes scattered across the Earth, captured the image of the black hole’s shadow or its accretion disk since the black hole itself doesn’t emit any visible light.

The research team analyzed 170 observations of M87 taken between 2000 and 2022, using more than 200 telescopes. They could determine the black hole’s rotation only by tracking the changes in the position of its jet. A rotating black hole warps space-time around it, a phenomenon known as frame-dragging or the Lense-Thirring effect. This warping causes the direction of the jet and the orientation of the accretion disk to change in response to the distortions in space-time. To external observers, this appears as a deviation in the jet’s angle.

Observations helped determine that the angle of deflection of the jet is approximately 10 degrees. The jet completes its motion in an 11-year cycle before the process repeats.

Data from new work. Image source: Nature

As for the speed at which this black hole is rotating, which has a mass roughly 6 billion times that of the Sun, scientists still need to determine it. Most black holes rotate at nearly the speed of light, but black holes have been discovered with rotation speeds decreasing to as low as 50% of the speed of light.

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Vasyl Kolomiiets
Vasyl Kolomiiets
I'm Vasyl Kolomiiets, a seasoned tech journalist regularly contributing to global publications. Having a profound background in information technologies, I seamlessly blended my technical expertise with my passion for writing, venturing into technology journalism. I've covered a wide range of topics including cutting-edge developments and their impacts on society, contributing to leading tech platforms.

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