M87: Telescopes Unite in Unprecedented Observations of Famous Black Hole

  • Released Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Beginning with the Event Horizon Telescope's now iconic image of the black hole at the center of M87, a new video takes viewers on a journey through the data from each telescope. The video shows data across many factors of 10 in scale, both of wavelengths of light and physical size.

In April 2019, scientists released the first image of a black hole in the galaxy M87 using the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT). This supermassive black hole weighs 6.5 billion times the mass of the Sun and is located at the center of M87, about 55 million light-years from Earth.

The supermassive black hole is powering jets of particles that travel at almost the speed of light, as described in the press release. These jets produce light spanning the entire electromagnetic spectrum, from radio waves to visible light to gamma rays.

To gain crucial insight into the black hole's properties and help interpret the EHT image, scientists coordinated observations with 19 of the world's most powerful telescopes on the ground and in space, collecting light from across the spectrum. This is the largest simultaneous observing campaign ever undertaken on a supermassive black hole with jets. The Astrophysical Journal Letter describing these results is available here.

The NASA telescopes involved in this observing campaign included the Chandra X-ray Observatory, Hubble Space Telescope, Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory, the Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR), and the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope.

The sequence begins with the Event Horizon Telescope(EHT) image of the black hole. It then moves through images from other radio telescope arrays from around the globe, moving outward in the field of view during each step. (The scale for the width of squares is given in light-years in the bottom right).

Next, the view changes to telescopes that detect visible light (Hubble and Swift), ultraviolet light (Swift), and X-rays (Chandra and NuSTAR). The screen splits to show how these images, which cover the same amount of the sky, compared to one another. The sequence finishes by showing what gamma-ray telescopes on the ground, and Fermi in space, detect from this black hole and its jet.

Throughout the sequence, the smallest detail that the array or telescope can see increases in size by a large amount. For example the smallest details that the EHT, Chandra, and Fermi can see are less than 0.01 light-year, about 100 light-years, and greater than 100,000 light-years, respectively. Only the EHT can detect the black hole's shadow, and at the other extreme, Fermi is not able to determine whether the gamma-ray emission it detects comes from regions close to the black hole or from the jet.

The data were collected by a team of 760 scientists and engineers from nearly 200 institutions, 32 countries or regions, using observatories funded by agencies and institutions around the globe. The observations were concentrated from the end of March to the middle of April 2017.

Additional information and related imagery can be found on the Chandra X-Ray Observatory site


Please give credit for this item to:
NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio/M.SubbaRao & NASA/CXC/SAO/A.Jubett

Release date

This page was originally published on Wednesday, April 21, 2021.
This page was last updated on Monday, July 15, 2024 at 12:08 AM EDT.

Papers used in this visualization