In our quest to know the Universe, we – Sapiens, have made quite a progress. Judge for yourself: physicists from the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) accelerate elementary particles to near-light speeds and push them together; NASA engineers successfully landed the Perserverance rover on the surface of the Red Planet; biologists have explained the intricate workings of circadian rhythms, not to mention making a COVID-19 vaccine in record time. But what is especially gratifying are the achievements of astrophysicists, who over the past few years have been able to prove that space monsters – supermassive black holes – do exist. So, in 2019, the world saw for the first time a snapshot of the event horizon of a black hole. Now, an international team of radio astronomers has presented to the astonished public a clearer image of a black hole located 55 million light-years from Earth.
Evolution of massive stars
Is it possible to photograph an object that is not visible? Any photographer and person who is more or less versed in the properties of visible light will answer this question in the negative. Fortunately, the human eye does not perceive the entire light spectrum, and scientists have known for a relatively long time about the existence of ultraviolet, infrared and relic radiation.
Последним исследователи называют тепловое излучение, которое равномерно заполняет Вселенную и возникло спустя 300 000 лет после Большого взрыва. С течением времени микроволновое фоновое космическое излучение (от англ. cosmic microwave background radiation) позволило космологам получить представление о том, насколько велика была наша Вселенная вскоре после рождения.
Before talking about supermassive black holes, let us recall that these objects are regions of space-time, the gravity of which is so strong that even photons of light cannot leave them. Today, physicists believe that only stars with a mass exceeding 15 solar masses can collapse into these cosmic monsters. This happens at the very end of their evolution, when the material for thermonuclear reactions is exhausted and the internal pressure cannot hold the outer layers of the star, because of which they fall to the center.
But if the outer layers of the star are thrown into the surrounding space, there will be a supernova explosion – the last act of the transformation of a massive star into a neutron one. These processes depend only on the initial mass of the object. So everything in space is very, very difficult.
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Photo of a space monster
Over the years, radio astronomers of the international project Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration have observed a supermassive black hole – a monster 6.5 billion times more massive than the Sun, which revolves in the center of the huge elliptical galaxy Messier 87. It is noteworthy that the last two years, the research team has spent extracting as much as possible data from their observations of the polarization of radio waves, which can reveal the shape of the magnetic fields in the hot gas orbiting the hole.
The invaluable work of astrophysicists made it possible to see that the black hole in the center of M87 pumps matter inward and energy outward into space, like a vortex of a rotating fan blade of a jet engine. It is noteworthy that the jets and lobes of radio, X-ray and other forms of energy extend more than 100,000 light-years from the black hole in M87. Most of this radiation comes from energetic electrical particles that spiral in magnetic fields.
Это интересно: Как умирают черные дыры?
As the authors of the study told The New York Times, they can now study in detail how a black hole directs material to its center. According to Daniel Holtz, an astrophysicist at the University of Chicago who was not involved in the study, these relativistic jets are among the most extreme phenomena in nature. The combination of gravity, hot gas and magnetic fields produces a beam that crosses the entire galaxy.
Читайте также: Черные дыры могут оказаться порталами для путешествий сквозь пространство и время
A side effect of the work, published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, was that astronomers were able to estimate the speed at which a black hole feeds on its medium. Apparently, she is not very hungry, as she eats up an “insignificant” thousandth of the mass of the Sun per year.
The diameter of the cosmic monster in the center of the galaxy M87 in the constellation Virgo, as noted by the authors of the scientific work, is about 100 billion kilometers, and the mass is about 6.5 billion times the mass of the Sun.
Note also that the stripes twisting into a funnel, which are clearly visible in the photograph, are the magnetic field lines in the vicinity of the black hole. The field itself is not very powerful: from 1 to 30 Gauss, which is only 4-10 times stronger than the Earth’s magnetic field on the surface.