Almost a year ago, astronomers released the first true image of a black hole. All efforts were focused on a supermassive black hole 50 million light-years away called M87*, which comprises of more than 6.5 billion solar masses. The resulting image exposed a dark spot surrounded by a bright accretion disk. More recently, astronomers glanced at M87* with an X-ray observatory, and that’s when they noticed something peculiar.
Initially, it appeared as if M87* was blasting physical matter from its poles at about 6 times the speed of light. But this wouldn’t actually be possible, as the laws of physics decree that anything with mass can’t travel faster than the speed of light. A closer inspection revealed that superluminal motion was causing an optical illusion and that this resulted in a miscalculation. Realistically, the matter was moving ~99% of the speed of light.
So while the laws of physics weren’t actually being broken by M87*, the matter being ejected from its poles was still indeed moving inconceivably fast. It’s believed that the material was first corralled toward the top and bottom of the black hole before it was ejected by the black hole’s powerful magnetic fields. These ejections also exhibit a blue hue, which is purportedly caused by fast-moving electrons.
While the idea that matter can move anywhere near this speed is indeed awe-inspiring, it’s worth noting that this feat has only been observed in the case of unthinkably large supermassive black holes like M87* and that the matter likely started as super-heated plasma before being ejected. While our minds may run while with how we might harness this short of power, it’s probably best that we keep our distance from black holes this large and powerful…