Astronomers have photographed a bubble-blowing black hole. It is one of the best images ever made of the huge bubbles that black holes can emit.
On the photo we see the black hole that is in the heart of the Messier 87 galaxy. The black hole that we find here is one of the heaviest black holes ever discovered: it is about six billion times heavier than the sun.
And such a black hole eats a lot of matter every day: every few minutes this matter swallows up in terms of mass comparable to that of our earth. Part of that matter converts the black hole into radiation and ultra-fast particles.
But black holes do not only take: they also give. Part of the matter they take in, they give off. And in the form of a hot plasma stream that almost rushes out of the galaxy at almost the speed of light. But sooner or later that plasma flow has to slow down and when it does, a large thin balloon is created. Optical telescopes cannot observe these, but the LOFAR telescope (which makes observations at low radio frequencies) can.
The bubble that blows the black hole. The balloon is larger than a complete galaxy. The image on the left was created using data from optical telescopes and LOFAR. Right optical only. Photos: via Astron.nl.
With this, the photo not only proves what the LOFAR telescope is capable of, but it also offers us an even better picture of what the black hole is doing, says researcher Francesco de Gasperin. “It shows the possibilities of LOFAR and it offers overwhelming evidence for the strong interaction between the super-heavy black hole of the galaxy and the environment of the system. Like symbiotic species, the galaxy and the super-heavy black hole lead intimately entangled lives, with the system feeding the black hole with matter and giving the black hole energy back to the system ”.
The research also shows that the bubbles that the black hole produces are actually very young. They are only 40 million years old: a sigh on the cosmic time scale. The researchers are also sure that the bubble is not a remnant of an activity from long ago, but is still being supplemented with new particles.
The snapshot and in particular its quality is even more impressive when you consider that the LOFAR telescope is currently being tested. "For a radio telescope, this is one of the most difficult areas to observe," says researcher Heino Falcke. "Results of such high quality so early in the development of the LOFAR telescope, we did not expect that."