Secrets of M87’s Black Hole

In the vast tapestry of the cosmos, few phenomena have captured the human imagination as profoundly as black holes. These enigmatic entities, where gravity pulls so much that even light cannot escape, have long been subjects of intrigue, speculation, and intense study. In a landmark moment for astronomy and science at large, researchers achieved the seemingly impossible: capturing the first-ever image of a black hole.

This groundbreaking feat was not just a visual confirmation of theoretical physics but a testament to human perseverance and ingenuity. The black hole in question resides in the heart of the M87 galaxy, a colossal elliptical galaxy in the Virgo cluster. M87 has always held a special place in the astronomical community. Not just for its size and proximity but also for the mysteries it harbors. With this monumental discovery, the galaxy and its central black hole have become emblematic of the boundless possibilities of space exploration and our quest to understand the universe‘s deepest secrets.

Animation by NASA, ESA, Joseph Olmsted/STScI; 3D model by Frank Summers/STScI; Science by Chung-Pei Ma/UC Berkeley

The Historic Observation

The quest to visualize a black hole, an object traditionally deemed “unseeable,” required not just advanced technology but also unprecedented global collaboration. At the forefront of this endeavor was the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT), a network of synchronized radio observatories scattered across the globe. The EHT’s name is apt, as its primary objective was to capture the event horizon. The boundary beyond which nothing, not even light, can escape a black hole.

To achieve the resolution necessary to image the black hole in M87, observatories worldwide joined forces. Effectively creating a virtual telescope as large as our planet. This global collaboration, involving institutions from North America, Europe, Asia, and even the South Pole, showcased the power of collective scientific effort. By combining the data from these observatories, researchers could harness the observational power equivalent to a telescope the size of Earth.

Secrets of M87's Black Hole
Secrets of M87’s Black Hole

In 2019, the world held its breath as the EHT team unveiled the fruits of their labor: the first-ever image of a black hole. This image, showcasing a glowing ring of light surrounding a dark central region, was a visual confirmation of decades of theoretical work. The release had a profound global impact, making headlines worldwide and rekindling public interest in astrophysics. It was a moment that transcended borders and disciplines. Reminding us of the wonders of the universe and our relentless pursuit to understand it.

Key aspects of the M87 black hole

AspectDescriptionSignificance or Discovery
DiscoveryFirst image captured by the Event Horizon TelescopeGroundbreaking achievement in black hole research
Size and MassMeasurements of its size and massAmong the largest known black holes
Event HorizonCharacteristics of the event horizonInsights into the physics of black holes
Jet FormationAnalysis of the jet emitted by M87Understanding how black holes affect galaxies
Gravitational ImpactInfluence on surrounding galaxy clusterRole in galaxy formation and evolution
Future ResearchPotential studies based on M87 observationsPaving the way for further astronomical discoveries

Unveiling the Spin

Black holes, despite their seemingly simple structure, are incredibly complex entities, and one of their most intriguing characteristics is their spin. The recent observations of the black hole in M87 have shed light on this very aspect. Scientists, using the data from the Event Horizon Telescope, were able to determine that this supermassive black hole is not just absorbing matter but is also spinning at incredible speeds. This spin is not just a rotational movement. It carries with it profound implications for our understanding of these cosmic giants.

One of the most striking manifestations of this spin is the powerful jets of energy emitted from the black hole. These jets, which extend thousands of light-years into space, are believed to be powered by the black hole’s rotational energy. The M87 black hole’s jet, in particular, has been a subject of study for decades. With the new data on the black hole’s spin, scientists can better understand the mechanisms that drive these jets and the incredible forces at play near the event horizon.

Perhaps one of the most significant outcomes of this discovery is its reinforcement of Einstein’s theory of relativity. Black holes, with their extreme gravitational fields, serve as natural laboratories to test the limits of general relativity. The observed spin and the associated phenomena around the M87 black hole align remarkably well with the predictions of Einstein’s theory. This congruence not only solidifies our understanding of relativity but also underscores its robustness in explaining the most extreme conditions in the universe.

Delving Deeper into M87

The Messier 87 galaxy, often abbreviated as M87, is a celestial marvel that has captivated astronomers for centuries. Located in the Virgo Cluster, this massive elliptical galaxy is situated approximately 53 million light-years away from Earth. Its sheer size and luminosity make it one of the most prominent galaxies in the Virgo constellation. And a subject of intense study in the astronomical community.

Secrets of M87's Black Hole
The huge halo around giant elliptical galaxy Messier 87 appears on this very deep image. An excess of light in the top-right part of this halo, and the motion of planetary nebulae in the galaxy, are the last remaining signs of a medium-sized galaxy that recently collided with Messier 87. The image also reveals many other galaxies forming the Virgo Cluster, of which Messier 87 is the largest member. In particular, the two galaxies at the top right of the frame are nicknamed “the Eyes“. Image: Chris Mihos (Case Western Reserve University)/ESO

At the heart of M87 lies its crowning jewel: a supermassive black hole. This black hole, with a mass billions of times that of our Sun, is a gravitational powerhouse. Influencing the motion of stars within the galaxy and even shaping the galaxy’s overall structure. Recent observations, especially those from the Event Horizon Telescope, have provided insights into its characteristics. The black hole’s event horizon, the boundary beyond which nothing can escape, spans a region larger than our entire solar system. Its powerful gravitational pull, coupled with its rapid spin, results in the emission of intense jets of energy. Which can be observed extending far beyond the galaxy’s boundaries.


The history of M87’s observation is rich and dates back to the 18th century. It was first cataloged in 1781 by the famed French astronomer Charles Messier, who included it as the 87th entry in his catalog of nebulous objects. Since then, M87 has been a subject of continuous observation and study. From Messier’s rudimentary telescopes to today’s advanced observatories, the journey of understanding M87 has been a testament to the evolution of astronomy and our ever-growing curiosity about the universe.

The Science Behind the Spin

Black holes, with their immense gravitational pull, are not just entities that absorb everything in their vicinity. They also have profound effects on the very fabric of space-time. One of the most intriguing phenomena associated with rotating black holes is frame-dragging. Where the black hole’s spin causes space-time itself to twist and turn around it. This effect, predicted by Einstein’s theory of general relativity, has been observed around various astronomical objects. But its manifestation around black holes is particularly pronounced due to their extreme gravitational fields.

Central to understanding a black hole’s spin is the accretion disk, a swirling mass of gas, dust, and other matter that orbits the black hole. This disk, heated to incredibly high temperatures due to the intense gravitational forces at play, emits a vast amount of radiation, making it observable from Earth. The dynamics of the accretion disk, including its rotation and the patterns of matter falling into the black hole. Provide crucial insights into the black hole’s spin. Additionally, the powerful jets of energy emitted from the black hole, driven by its rotational energy, further elucidate the nature and magnitude of its spin.

A particularly fascinating observation related to M87’s black hole is the 11-year cycle of the jet’s wobble. This wobble, or precession, is believed to be caused by the combined effects of the black hole’s spin and the gravitational forces of nearby objects. The periodic nature of this wobble provides a unique window into the dynamics at play near the black hole’s event horizon. It sheds light on the interactions between the black hole, its accretion disk, and the surrounding environment. Offering a deeper understanding of these cosmic behemoths and their role in shaping the universe.

Comparisons with Other Black Holes

Black holes, while sharing certain fundamental characteristics, can vary widely in their properties and behaviors. This diversity offers a rich tapestry of information. Allowing scientists to draw comparisons and better understand the underlying physics of these enigmatic entities.

One such notable black hole resides in the NGC 1365 galaxy. Located approximately 60 million light-years away in the Fornax constellation, this black hole is also supermassive. With a mass millions of times that of our Sun. Observations of the NGC 1365 black hole have revealed that it, too, spins at incredibly high speeds, approaching the limits set by Einstein’s theory of relativity.


The speeds at which black holes spin can vary widely. Some rotate relatively slowly, while others, like the ones in M87 and NGC 1365, spin at near-maximal rates. These varying spin rates have significant implications. A black hole’s spin affects its surrounding environment, influencing the formation and behavior of accretion disks and the emission of energy jets. Additionally, the spin rate can provide insights into the black hole’s history, including past mergers and interactions with other celestial objects.

But what causes black holes to spin so fast? Several theories attempt to answer this question. One widely accepted explanation is the conservation of angular momentum. As matter falls into a black hole, it brings with it angular momentum. Given the compact nature of black holes, this incoming matter causes the black hole to spin faster, much like a figure skater pulling in their arms during a spin. Additionally, black holes can merge, and if these merging black holes have aligned spins, the resulting black hole can inherit a high spin rate.

In essence, by comparing the properties and behaviors of different black holes, scientists can piece together the intricate puzzle of black hole physics. Deepening our understanding of these cosmic wonders and their role in the universe’s grand tapestry.


The journey to understand the spin of M87’s black hole has been nothing short of monumental. From the first-ever image of a black hole to the intricate studies revealing its rapid rotation, each step has been a testament to human curiosity, collaboration, and technological prowess. This achievement is not just an isolated triumph but a significant milestone in the broader narrative of astrophysics.

The implications of this discovery are vast. By understanding the spin of black holes, we gain insights into their formation, evolution, and interactions with their surroundings. It reinforces the predictions of general relativity, further solidifying its place as a cornerstone of modern physics. Moreover, the study of such extreme environments pushes the boundaries of our knowledge, challenging and refining our theories about the very fabric of space-time.

As we stand on the cusp of this new understanding, we can’t help but look forward with anticipation. The universe is a vast, intricate puzzle, and every discovery, like the one concerning M87’s black hole, adds another piece to the picture. Future studies, equipped with even more advanced tools and driven by insatiable curiosity, promise to reveal more about the mysteries of the cosmos. As we continue this exploration, we are reminded of the boundless wonders that await and the infinite potential of human endeavor to unravel them.

FAQ Section for “Secrets of M87’s Black Hole”

What is the M87 Black Hole?

The M87 black hole is a supermassive black hole at the center of the Messier 87 galaxy, known for being the first black hole to be photographed.

Why is the M87 Black Hole Important?

It provides crucial insights into black hole physics and helps validate theories of general relativity.

How Large is the M87 Black Hole?

It’s one of the largest known black holes, with a mass of several billion times that of the Sun.

What Did the First Image of M87 Reveal?

The image captured by the Event Horizon Telescope revealed the black hole’s shadow and the event horizon.

How Does the M87 Black Hole Affect its Galaxy?

The black hole plays a significant role in the dynamics and evolution of the M87 galaxy, including its jet formation.

Can We See the M87 Black Hole with a Regular Telescope?

No, imaging the M87 black hole required a global network of radio telescopes.