Preston’s university astronomer helps uncover new black hole research

Posted on - 28th March, 2024 - 8:00pm | Author - | Posted in - Education, Preston News, UCLan
This image shows the polarised view of the Milky Way black hole

A University of Central Lancashire astronomer has been involved in research which has unveiled Milky Way magnetic fields.

An international team of astronomers, including those from UCLan, has uncovered strong magnetic fields spiralling from the edge of the supermassive black hole Sagittarius A* (Sgr A*).

Produced by the Event Horizon Telescope collaboration, a magnetic field structure strikingly similar to that of the black hole at the centre of the M87 galaxy has been revealed suggests that strong magnetic fields may be common to all black holes.

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This similarity also hints toward a hidden jet in Sagittarius A*. The results were published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Professor Derek Ward-Thompson from UCLan’s Jeremiah Horrocks Institute is a key member of the Event Horizon Telescope collaboration and is the communicating author for these latest publications.

He said: “This is a very exciting set of results that allow us to plot the magnetic field around the immediate environment of a black hole.

“The comparison with our previous results on M87* is particularly interesting because M87* is about a thousand times more massive, and yet the magnetic fields of the two appear remarkably similar. This is pointing to fundamental underlying truth about the processes surrounding black holes in general. This is a huge leap forward.”

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Sara Issaoun, NASA Hubble Fellowship Program Einstein Fellow at the Centre for Astrophysics Harvard & Smithsonian and co-lead of the project said: “What we’re seeing now is that there are strong, twisted, and organized magnetic fields near the black hole at the centre of the Milky Way galaxy.

“Along with Sgr A* having a strikingly similar polarization structure to that seen in the much larger and more powerful M87* black hole, we’ve learned that strong and ordered magnetic fields are critical to how black holes interact with the gas and matter around them.”

The EHT has conducted several observations since 2017 and is scheduled to observe Sgr A* again in April 2024.

Each year, the images improve as the EHT incorporates new telescopes, larger bandwidth, and new observing frequencies.

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