Telescopes Team up to Capture Highest-Resolution Astronomy Image Ever Taken

February 10, 2016 | Johannes Van Zijl

Black hole
Photo credit: Dr Jose L.Gomez

The equivalent of seeing a 50-cent coin on the Moon.

The image might not look like much, but this is the highest-resolution Astronomy image that has ever been taken. It shows a jet of material being spewed out of a black hole that is nearly 900 million light-years away from Earth.  The black hole is located in the center of the BL Lacertae galaxy, and the jet that was observed was thought to have had a spiraling magnetic field effect that spewed out particles much faster than they would normally eject without the coiled acceleration.

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The work, which was conducted at the Instituto de Astrofisica de Andalucia (IAA-CSIC), provides new insights to the nature of supermassive black holes — objects that are normally located at the center of spiraling galaxies. By combining the powers of 15 radio telescopes, 14 located here on Earth and the Russian Spektr-R radio space telescope in space, astronomers were able to reach a telescopic power equivalent to 63,000 miles (101,000 kilometers) in diameter which enabled them to capture this extraordinary image.

The jet of material being ejected out from the black hole is huge. At 186 billion miles (300 billion kilometers) long, it is so big that it would extend from the sun to well past the furthest edge of our outer solar system, called the Oort cloud, as seen in the image below. The distance to Alpha Centauri, the nearest star, is given for comparison.

Size comparison with the sun, the oort cloud, and Alpha Centauri
The jet of material spewed out from the heart of Galaxy BL Lacertae with the Oort cloud and Alpha Centauri for comparison. Image Credit: Dr Jose L.omez et.al., A Lobanov, NRAO.

The image and its analysis was published in The Astrophysical Journal on January 26. Astronomers hope that future research and observations of jets of material ejected by black holes might support and help to revise their theories on how the jets produce microwave radiation.

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