Curtin University astronomers have produced the most complete photographs of the nearest active black hole to Earth as part of an international team.
According to media, the discovery, which was published in the Nature Astronomy magazine and made public on Thursday, took a deep dive into the black hole at the centre of the galaxy Centaurus A, which is roughly 12 million light-years away.
The spewing black hole expanded across a length comparable to 16 moons placed side by side in the night sky, despite being galaxies far away. It is not, however, visible to the naked eye.
The photographs were created with the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) telescope, which can detect and image transmitted radio waves and is located in outback Western Australia.
“These radio waves emanate from material being pulled into the supermassive black hole in the centre of the galaxy,” said lead author Benjamin McKinley of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR)’s Curtin University node.
As the 55 million-times-mass-of-the-Sun black hole emerges, it feeds on gas and ejects material at near-light speed, causing “radio bubbles” to grow outwards.
“It forms a disc around the black hole, and when matter is ripped apart as it approaches the black hole, powerful jets form on either side of the disc, ejecting most of the material back into space, probably over a million light-years away,” McKinley explained.
The images appear brighter in the centre, according to McKinley, because energy is wasted when particles are fired out and settle.
He believes the shape it takes, which resembles two connected ovals, is caused by particles being re-accelerated by a strong magnetic field.
The MWA, which Curtin University manages on behalf of ICRAR, enabled the study and imaging.
“The MWA is a forerunner of the Square Kilometre Array,” said MWA director Steven Tingay. “The SKA is a global endeavour to create the world’s largest radio telescopes in Western Australia and South Africa.”