Astronomers have snapped a new photo of the black hole in galaxy M87

The Event Horizon Telescope image is the first to contain data collected after 2017

An image of a supermassive black hole in galaxy M87, taken by the Event Horizon Telescope. The image shows an orange-gold ring around the black hole with the brightest spot appearing toward the bottom right of the ring in this image.

A new Event Horizon Telescope image of the supermassive black hole in galaxy M87 (shown) confirms findings from the project’s first image while also showing that some material around the black hole has moved.

Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration

Heads up space fans: A new picture of the supermassive black hole lurking in the galaxy M87 just dropped.

The new image looks a lot like the previous, headline-grabbing shot revealed in 2019 (SN: 4/10/19). The main difference is that the brightest spot around the black hole has shifted counterclockwise by about 30 degrees, researchers report January 18 in Astronomy & Astrophysics. This is probably due to material sloshing around in the black hole’s accretion disk as it gets consumed.

But other aspects have not changed. A bright ring and the black hole’s shadow appear almost exactly the same size as before. This helps confirm that M87’s black hole is the type predicted by Einstein’s general theory of relativity and not some more exotic or unexpected variety, says astrophysicist Lia Medeiros of Princeton University.

“In science, it’s always really important to do the same or similar experiments multiple times,” Medeiros says. It helps “make sure you’re not fooling yourself, and that your results are reproducible.”

Medeiros is part of an international collaboration called the Event Horizon Telescope, or EHT, which used a network of radio telescopes around the globe to zoom in on M87’s heart, about 55 million light-years from Earth (SN: 4/10/19). Previously, all images from the EHT — including those of the supermassive black hole in our own galaxy’s center — used data taken in 2017 or earlier (SN: 5/12/22). The new picture is the first to incorporate observations from 2018.

A side-by-side comparison of Event Horizon Telescope images of galaxy M87's black hole from 2017 to 2018. On the left, the image from 2017 shows the brightest spot in the ring toward the bottom of the black hole. On the right, the image from 2018 shows that the brightest spot in the ring rotated about 30 degrees around the black hole since 2017's image.
The EHT’s first image of M87’s black hole using data collected in 2017 or earlier (left) looks a lot like the new picture (right), the first to incorporate data from 2018. The most notable change is the position of the brightest spot in the ring, which rotated about 30 degrees around the black hole in the intervening time.Event Horizon Telescope CollaborationThe EHT’s first image of M87’s black hole using data collected in 2017 or earlier (left) looks a lot like the new picture (right), the first to incorporate data from 2018. The most notable change is the position of the brightest spot in the ring, which rotated about 30 degrees around the black hole in the intervening time.Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration

In the interim, the EHT team added another telescope to their collection: the Greenland Telescope in northwestern Greenland. Because the technique the researchers use, known as interferometry, grows better with more facilities, the new image contains previously inaccessible details about M87’s behemoth black hole, which the researchers will dig into later.

Future images using data taken in years after 2018 will help physicists learn more about the complex interactions between the black hole’s magnetic field and the plasma spinning around it (SN: 3/24/21).

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