Space Photos of the Week: Weird, Hungry, and Fast Black Holes – WIRED


This week’s cosmicjourney is taking us all over the place, starting at a galaxy 55 million light years away called M87. M87 has been getting quite a lot of attention lately because it is home to an ultramassive black hole—the first that we’ve ever been able to take a photo of. To pull it off, the Event Horizon Telescope team collaborated with scientists everywhere, arraying together several of the world’s largest radio telescopes and turning the planet into one giant eye-on-the-far-away-sky. The team then studied M87 for years, collecting more and more data and eventually creating an image. Astronomers, physicists and anyone interested in the phenomenon of black holes can glean a lot of useful data from the photo because it confirmed that black holes do in fact have an event horizon, something that was only theorized before.

A mere 8,000 light years away in our home galaxy is another black hole, this one part of a binary star system called V404 Cygni. The black hole is devouring its companion star, as they often do. But this violent lunch is a tad different than other black holes that scientists have studied. When a black hole tears apart a star or any passing material, the interaction is so energetic that it creates an electromagnetic signal that scientists can detect from way over here. As a result we often see illustrations of black holes with big massive jets spewing out from the top and bottom. But V404 Cygni’s jets are unique because they rotate faster than astronomers have ever observed before. Imagine it like a lawn sprinkler that rotates around on its axis, ensuring the entire lawn is covered in water. Except, instead of water it’s energetic dead star stuff and instead of a lawn its, well, space. And because of the mass and speed of this spin, the black hole is actually dragging the fabric of spacetime with it. Talk about a meal on the go!

Feeling relieved you don’t live near a black hole? Go enjoy the rest of these safe-from-a-distance space photoshere.


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