Sorry Guys, The First Black Hole Ever Captured Has A Wonky Flange

Many of you will remember our first eyes on with M87, a massive sucky doughnut 53 million lightyears away in the Messier galaxy. The effort was brought to us by the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT), a huge network of observatories that turned Earth into one giant telescope. 

It was a momentous occassion for those who are versed in the subtleties of space. For us astronerds, we laughed, and we cried. While regular plebs said: "Is that it?"

Little did they know the image was a revelation in our understanding of the most awesome objects in the known universe. The hard work by numerous scientific teams from across the planet fed us data that profoundly influenced our understanding of black holes and space in general. 

And now, the data has pointed to a bum clenching revelation...

M87 appears to be 'wobbling', and the evidence is in its meaty rim. 

 

 

You see, we have watched M87 for a decade now, and following its movement we've spotted that one particular part of its accretion disc (the doughnut bit).

This part is not uniform in thickness and is slightly brighter on one side. 

Maciek Wielgus at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics had a deep look at the disc and hypothesised the following: "Last year we saw an image of the shadow of a black hole, consisting of a bright crescent formed by hot plasma swirling around M87*, and a dark central part, where we expect the event horizon of the black hole to be. Based on last year's results, we asked the following questions: is this crescent-like morphology consistent with the archival data? Would the archival data indicate a similar size and orientation of the crescent?"

What they found was the event horizon (or doughnut hole) stayed consistent in size even over many years. And then, an unexpected result also presented itself: the bright region isn't fixed in place, it is closer to us, while the farthest part seems fainter.  

 

 

"ummmm... okay?" we hear you say. 
Here's what that means.

"Because the flow of matter is turbulent, the crescent appears to wobble with time," Wielgus said. "Actually, we see quite a lot of variation there, and not all theoretical models of accretion allow for so much wobbling. What it means is that we can start ruling out some of the models based on the observed source dynamics."

Think of it like a buckled rim on a bicycle. Except, the buckle is in flux able to stay in place on the wheel as the black hole spins.

 

Here's what the flow of a black hole looks like in this NASA representation:

The turbulence that makes the flange 'wobble' could be due to a few things. But the revelation means that older theories have been made obsolete and the foundation of black hole knowledge is refined. 

The turbulence could be from the magnitude of the entire hole's spin. Or magnetorotational instability. Or even misalignment in the black hole's spin and accretion flow. 

Obviously, we can't rule out the relationship with relativistic jets pouring plasma from the singularity into space either. I mean, what is this? Amateur hour?

The data is still an early bird, and there's no way to draw any firm conclusions yet. But the team believe adding more observatories to the EHT project will provide opportunities for higher quality data. 

If all things go to plan, two more telescopes will add to the eight observatories around the world this time next year. 

"The enhanced imaging capabilities provided by this extended array will provide a more detailed view on the shadow of the black hole M87* and on the innermost jet of the M87 radio galaxy," said Anton Zensus from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Germany.

Our toes are curling in anticipation for the next bout of data about M87 and its unique flange. 

 

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