For the very first time, astronomers have achieved a groundbreaking milestone by uncovering direct evidence affirming the rotation of a black hole.
This breakthrough in astronomical understanding has furnished astronomers with fresh insights into the enigmatic realms of celestial bodies. Their focus was directed towards the supermassive black hole positioned at the heart of our neighboring galaxy, Messier 87 (M87). The Event Horizon Telescope, renowned for its ability to capture unprecedented cosmic imagery, had previously imaged the shadow cast by the M87 galaxy.
In common with other supermassive black holes, M87 boasts formidable jets that surge forth from its poles at nearly the speed of light, streaming out into the vastness of intergalactic space.
Up until this juncture, the scientific community had posited that these cosmic jets derived their energy from the rotational dynamics of a black hole. However, empirical evidence to substantiate this theory had remained conspicuously absent.
Dr. Kazuhiro Hada, a co-author of the study affiliated with Japan’s National Astronomical Observatory, conveyed to The Guardian, “After the success of black hole imaging in this galaxy with the Event Horizon Telescope, whether this black hole is spinning or not has been a central concern among scientists. Now anticipation has turned into certainty. This monster black hole is indeed spinning.”
Dr. Ru-Sen Lu, the lead author hailing from the Shanghai Astronomical Observatory, remarked on the widespread awareness within the scientific community of these jets emanating from the vicinity of black holes. However, the mechanics behind this phenomenon have remained an elusive mystery, prompting the need to scrutinize the origin of these jets in close proximity to the black hole.
M87, situated a staggering 55 million light-years distant from Earth, harbors a black hole dwarfing the Sun’s mass by a staggering 6.5 billion times. According to scientific postulations, swirling at the precipice of this cosmic abyss is an accretion disk comprised of gases and dust.
A fraction of these particles spirals inexorably into the black hole’s grasp, vanishing into oblivion. In stark contrast, a minuscule portion is forcibly expelled from the black hole’s polar regions, hurtling away at velocities exceeding 99.99 percent of the speed of light.
The research divulges the observation of a recurring 11-year cycle in these jets, exhibiting a precession phenomenon near a central point situated at the black hole’s periphery. This observation decisively demonstrates a misalignment between the spin axis of the black hole and the accretion disk, resulting in the jet’s rotation akin to a spinning top.
The authors of the study assert, “Detecting this precession provides unequivocal evidence that the supermassive black hole in M87 is indeed spinning, thus enhancing our understanding of the nature of supermassive black holes.”
Dr. Ziri Younsi, an astrophysicist at UCL, in conversation with The Guardian, lauds this discovery’s significance, stating, “That’s exciting because it’s telling us that it can only precess if the black hole has non-zero spin. It’s an indirect but extremely strong confirmation of spin.”