The Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) is a global network of radio telescopes that work together to study the mysteries of black holes. Using the EHT, researchers have been able to capture the first-ever image of Sgr A*, the supermassive black hole at the center of our Milky Way galaxy, in polarized light.

Polarized light is light that vibrates in a specific orientation, and by studying it, scientists can learn about the magnetic fields surrounding black holes. The new image of Sgr A* reveals strong, organized magnetic fields that spiral out from the edge of the black hole.

This is remarkably similar to the magnetic field structure observed around the supermassive black hole at the center of the galaxy M87, which is over a thousand times more massive than Sgr A*. This similarity suggests that powerful, organized magnetic fields may be a common feature of all black holes, regardless of their size or mass.

It also indicates the possibility of a hidden jet of material being launched from Sgr A*, similar to the powerful jets observed in M87. Capturing images of black holes, especially Sgr A*, in polarized light is an immensely challenging task. The gas and plasma surrounding the black hole orbit incredibly quickly, with the material completing a full orbit in just a few minutes.

This means that the magnetic field structures are constantly changing, making it difficult to capture a clear image. To overcome this challenge, the EHT team used highly sophisticated instruments and techniques, including advanced computer simulations. By comparing the real measurements taken by the telescopes with thousands of possible simulated images, the researchers were able to construct a detailed map of the magnetic field structure around Sgr A*.

According to the scientists involved, this new polarized image of Sgr A* is like “opening the book” after only seeing the cover. The first non-polarized image of Sgr A* was already an incredible feat, as the black hole’s constant motion made it difficult to construct even a basic image. But the polarized image provides a much deeper understanding of the astrophysics and mechanisms at play in the immediate vicinity of the black hole.

By studying the polarized light, the researchers can directly infer the strength and structure of the magnetic fields that are shaping the flow of gas and matter into and out of the black hole. This gives them valuable insights into the fundamental processes that govern how black holes feed and expel material.

The striking similarity between the magnetic field structures of Sgr A* and the much larger and more powerful black hole in M87 suggests that there may be universal processes at work in how black holes interact with the surrounding gas and matter. This finding will help to refine theoretical models and simulations, leading to a more comprehensive understanding of black hole dynamics.

Overall, this new discovery from the EHT represents a significant step forward in our understanding of the most extreme and enigmatic objects in the universe – supermassive black holes.


Goethe University Frankfurt | European Southern Observatory | Kazunori Akiyama, Antxon Alberdi, et al., First Sagittarius A* Event Horizon Telescope Results. VII. Polarization of the Ring. The Astrophysical Journal Letters, 964 L25. DOI 10.3847/2041-8213/ad2df0

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