Eddie Gonzales Jr. – MessageToEagle.com – Using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, astronomers have seen that the famous giant black hole in Messier 87 is propelling particles at speeds greater than 99% of the speed of light.
The Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration released the first image of a black hole with observations of the massive, dark object at the center of galaxy Messier 87, or M87, last April.
Illustration of the Supermassive Black Hole at the Center of M87. Credit: NASA/CXC/M.Weiss
This black hole has a mass of about 6.5 billion times that of the sun and is located about 55 million light-years from Earth. The black hole has been called M87* by astronomers and has recently been given the Hawaiian name of “Powehi.”
For years, astronomers have observed radiation from a jet of high energy particles – powered by the black hole – blasting out of the center of M87. Now by using Chandra observations, researchers have seen that sections of the jet are moving at nearly the speed of light.
“This is the first time such extreme speeds by a black hole’s jet have been recorded using X-ray data,” Ralph Kraft of the Center of Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian (CfA) in Cambridge, Mass., said in a press release.
“We needed the sharp X-ray vision of Chandra to make these measurements.”
Chandra Wide-field View of M87; box shows the approximate location of the wide-field jet image above. Credit: NASA/CXC
The researchers used Chandra observations from 2012 and 2017 to track the motion of two X-ray knots located within the jet about 900 and 2,500 light-years away from the black hole. The X-ray data show motion with apparent speeds of 6.3 times the speed of light for the X-ray knot closer to the black hole and 2.4 times the speed of light for the other.
“One of the unbreakable laws of physics is that nothing can move faster than the speed of light,” said co-author Brad Snios, also of the CfA. “We haven’t broken physics, but we have found an example of an amazing phenomenon called superluminal motion.”
This latest result shows the ability of X-rays to act as an accurate cosmic speed gun. The team observed that the feature moving with an apparent speed of 6.3 times the speed of light also faded by over 70% between 2012 and 2017. This fading was likely caused by particles’ loss of energy due to the radiation produced as they spiral around a magnetic field. For this to occur the team must be seeing X-rays from the same particles at both times, and not a moving wave.
“Our work gives the strongest evidence yet that particles in M87*’s jet are actually traveling at close to the cosmic speed limit”, said Snios.