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This Is the First-Ever Image of a Black Hole-Powered Jet

Jennifer Leman
Photo credit: J.Y. Kim (MPIfR), Boston University Blazar program, and the EHT Collaboration.

From Popular Mechanics

  • The Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration has revealed the first-ever image of a relativistic jet, also known as a blazar, emanating from the center of a black hole.
  • On April 10, 2019, this same team unveiled the first-ever image of a black hole.
  • The EHT managed to snap an image of the jet at a resolution down to a light-year, which is unprecedented.

Nearly a year after the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) Collaboration stunned the world with an extraordinary image of the black hole at the center of the M87 galaxy, the team is back at it again with another incredible cosmic photograph. This time, the telescopes have captured a jet emanating from a distant quasar.


Five billion light-years away, at the center of a sparkling quasar—a flickering galaxy in the constellation Virgo, called 3C 279—lies a churning supermassive black hole. It's an incredibly active type of black hole called a blazar, and it's slurping up nearby stars (hence the flickering) and spitting a relativistic jet of high-energy particles out into space.

Photo credit: J.Y. Kim (MPIfR), Boston University Blazar program, and the EHT Collaboration.

The structure of the blazar is particularly interesting. Near its base, it twists like a corkscrew before straightening out and darting out into space. For the first time, the image reveals evidence of a newly observed perpendicular feature—what astronomers believe may be an accretionary jet.

“We knew that every time you open a new window to the universe you can find something new,” said astrophysicist and EHT team member Jae-Young Kim, of the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy, in a statement. “Here, where we expected to find the region where the jet forms by going to the sharpest image possible, we find a kind of perpendicular structure. This is like finding a very different shape by opening the smallest Matryoshka doll.”

The fleet of telescopes managed to snap an image of the jet at a resolution down to a light-year—an incredible feat of engineering. The image and accompanying article was published today in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

The EHT Collaboration is a group of telescopes from around the world that have synced up to collect data and snap pictures of some of the universe's most spectacular celestial events, using a technique called very long baseline interferometry.

The EHT is made up of ALMA and APEX telescopes in Chile, the IRAM 30-meter telescope in Spain, Arizona's Submillimeter Telescope, Hawaii's Submillimeter Array and James Clerk Maxwell Telescope, and the Large Millimeter Telescope in Sierra Negra, Mexico. The frost-covered South Pole Telescope in Antarctica is also part of the group.

For two years in a row, the EHT Collaboration has revealed, in incredible detail, the inner workings of some of the strangest phenomena in the universe. We can't wait to see what these telescopes reveal next.

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