It was in 2019 when astronomers came together to make the world’s most powerful telescope that was spread across the planet. What the Event Horizon Telescope did was capture the first image of a supermassive black hole at the centre of the Messier 87 (M87) galaxy.

While the data processing revealed an incredible image, there was more to it than met the eye. Researchers have now further churned the data from the observation and simulated it with an imaging algorithm and what they have found is a never-before-seen phenomenon.

Hidden behind the black hole is a thin, bright ring of light created by photons flung around the back of the massive object by its intense gravity. The findings have been published in The Astrophysical Journal, which reports the measurements of the gravitationally lensed secondary image—the first in an infinite series of so-called “photon rings”—around the supermassive black hole M87* via simultaneous modeling and imaging of the 2017 Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) observations.

“We turned off the searchlight to see the fireflies. We have been able to do something profound to resolve a fundamental signature of gravity around a black hole,” Broderick, an associate faculty member at Perimeter Institute and the University of Waterloo said in a statement.

The team used new imaging algorithms within the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) analysis framework to isolate and extract the distinct ring feature from the original observations of the M87 black hole. They also detected the telltale footprint of a powerful jet blasting outward from the black hole.

The EHT collaboration, which captured the first image of a black hole in 2019, was in news in 2022 as well for capturing the first image of the black hole at the centre of our own Milky Way galaxy. The black hole is located 27,000 light-years away from us. The team, however, maintained that looking at Sgr A* was more difficult than picturing M87 three years ago even though Sgr A* is much closer to us.


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