After we first saw the shadow of the supermassive black hole in galaxy M87, astronomers are now getting closer to explaining some of the galaxy's other phenomena.
Everything you need to know about M87
Messier 87, also called Virgo A, is a giant elliptical galaxy, the second brightest among the galaxies in the Virgo Cluster and one of the most massive in the local Universe. The supermassive black hole located in its center is one of the largest known at the moment – its mass is about 6.5 billion times the mass of the Sun, that is, about a thousand times more than the black hole in the center of the Milky Way, denoted as Sagittarius A*.
For more than a hundred years, M87 has been the object of astronomical research using various ground and space observatories. In 1918, astronomer Geber Curtis first detected a “direct beam” emanating from the center of the galaxy.
Further observations showed that this structure is a relativistic jet of plasma, the length of which is approximately five thousand light-years. Jets are observed in a number of cases, for example, in quasars. There are several theories of the formation of such jets, associated with an active galactic nucleus with a black hole absorbing matter from the surrounding accretion disk.
In the infrared range of waves, shock waves resulting from the interaction of the substance of the jet with the interstellar medium are more noticeable than the jet itself.
Astronomers get closer to explaining the high energy emissions from M87
M87 has two jets, one of them, visible in the optical range, is located to the right of the center of the galaxy and seems brighter due to relativistic effects. They are also responsible for the unobservability of the second jet, the substance in which is moving away from the terrestrial observer.
A group of astrophysicists decided to analyze a very high energy emission from Messier 87 using data from several observatories around the world.
Astronomers have found that the emissions from M87 can be explained by the lepto-hadron model. The latter can describe orphan flares that occur during high-energy emissions. These flares occur when the propagation of energy in protons changes.
The researchers noted that further observations with high-tech telescopes will be required to further clarify the nature of the M87 flares.
Infrared image of Messier 87 and shock waves created by relativistic jets
Back in 2019, however, astronomers created a new image of the elliptical galaxy M87, based on images of the Spitzer Space Infrared Telescope. The image showed shock waves created by the relativistic jets emanating from the center of the galaxy.
To create it, astronomers used several images obtained at different wavelengths: 3.6 (blue), 4.5 (green), and 8 (red) micrometers. The stellar population of the galaxy is responsible for the glow, indicated in blue and green, and various astrophysical objects containing dust are responsible for the glow, marked in red.
In the infrared and radio bands, you can see the shock wave created by this jet when it collides with clouds of gas and dust, which looks like a huge arc in the shape of the letter “C”.
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• Alfaro, R., Alvarez, C., & Arteaga-Velázquez, J. C. (2021, December 16). Study of the very high energy emission of M87 through its Broadband Spectral Energy Distribution. arXiv.org.
• Greicius, T. (2019, April 23). The giant galaxy around the Giant Black Hole. NASA.
• NASA. (n.d.). Spitzer captures messier 87.
• Nowakowski, T. (2021, December 28). Research inspects very high energy emission from Messier 87. Phys.org.