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Black Hole Particle Jets Pictured For The First Time (PHOTOS)

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This image, created using computer models, shows how the extreme gravity of the black hole in M87 distorts the appearance of the jet near the event horizon.
This image, created using computer models, shows how the extreme gravity of the black hole in M87 distorts the appearance of the jet near the event horizon.

A research team has managed to photograph a supermassive black hole as it swallows matter before shooting out particles into deep space.

Huge black holes are located at the centre of most galaxies, where they suck in matter and also shoot out 'jets' of particles at the speed of light, sometimes for hundreds of thousands of light years.

These streams of matter are brighter than the rest of the galaxy because of the extraordinary amounts of energy involved and their relatively small size - but they are hard to photograph because they are found in the centre of far-off galaxies.

But now a team has managed to photograph one for the first time.

m87_jet_combined

Above: the M87 Galaxy (pictured in 1998) and the new picture of the particle jet (inset)

Using the Event Horizon Telescope, which is a global network of instruments tuned to photograph distant objects in space 2,000 times finer than those visible to the Hubble Space Telescope, an image of the M87 galaxy's supermassive black hole and jet stream has been captured.

The black hole has a mass 6 billion times greater than our own sun - but the particle stream is less than a fraction of the sun's radius in size.

Tech website Ars Technica has the full story, and explains that Hawaii's James Clerk Maxwell Telescope, the Submillimeter Telescope in Arizona, and two telescopes at CARMA in California were involved in taking the shot.

The researchers behind the shot hope it will tell us more about how the black hole operates, and will eventually turn the telescope on the centre of our own galaxy.

"The basic nature of jets is still mysterious," said Christopher Reynolds, a professor of astronomy at the University of Maryland.

"Many astrophysicists suspect that jets are powered by black hole spin ... but right now, these ideas are still entirely in the realm of theory. This measurement is the first step in putting these ideas on a firm observational basis."

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