Photon ring a closer look at a black hole

(ORDO NEWS) — In 2019, scientists presented the first-ever image of a black hole made by mankind, in which the dark core is surrounded by a fiery aura of material falling on it. Even then, they believed that even more detailed images and ideas could be extracted from the data obtained.

Behind the bright, diffuse orange glow, the simulations calculated, there should be a thin, bright ring of light created by photons that the black hole throws behind it with its strong gravity.

A team of researchers led by Avery Broderick used sophisticated imaging algorithms to literally “update” original images of the supermassive black hole at the center of the M87 galaxy.

“We turned off the spotlight to see the fireflies,” explains Broderick, an associate professor at the Institute for Theoretical Physics and the University of Waterloo. “We’ve managed to do something remarkable—determine a fundamental sign of gravity around a black hole.

According to study co-author Hung-Yi Pu, an assistant professor at the National Taiwan Normal University, by “peeling off” image elements, one can clearly see the surroundings of a black hole.

To achieve this goal, the team used a new imaging algorithm within the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) THEMIS analytics platform to isolate and extract a distinct ring object from initial observations of the M87 black hole, and to detect the signature signature of a powerful black hole jet.

The researchers’ findings support theoretical predictions and offer new ways to study these enigmatic objects believed to be at the heart of most galaxies.

Black holes were considered invisible for a long time until scientists were able to capture them using the global network of EHT telescopes. In 2017, using eight observatories on four continents, pointing to the same point in the sky and linked to each other via nanosecond synchronization, EHT researchers observed two black holes.

The EHT collaboration first discovered a supermassive black hole in M87 in 2019, and then in 2022 a relatively small but unstable black hole at the heart of our own Milky Way galaxy, named Sagittarius A* (Sgr A*).

Supermassive black holes occupy the center of most galaxies, accumulating an incredible amount of mass and energy in a small space. For example, the mass of the black hole M87 is two quadrillion times (that’s two and 15 zeros) more than the Earth.

The image of M87, presented by scientists in 2019, was a landmark event, but the researchers realized that they could improve the quality of the image and gain new information with more ingenuity.

They applied new software techniques to reconstruct the original 2017 data, looking for phenomena that theories and modeling suggest lurk beneath the surface.

The new image captured shows the photon ring, which is made up of a series of increasingly distinct subrings that the team then superimposed on top of each other.

“Our approach involved using a theoretical understanding of what these black holes look like to build a custom model for the EHT data,” says Dominic Pesce, a team member at the Harvard Center for Astrophysics and the Smithsonian Institution.

“This model breaks down the reconstructed image into parts that are of most interest to us, so we can study them individually rather than as a whole.

According to Broderick, the result is possible because the EHT is “inherently a computational tool”.

“Algorithms are as important here as hardware. Advanced algorithmic development has allowed us to isolate key elements while maintaining the remaining areas of the image at the original EHT resolution.


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