Science Art: Chandra X-ray Observatory close-up of the core of the M87 galaxy, by NASA/CXC/Villanova University/J. Neilsen

Scientific illustration of M87 black hole taken by Chandra X-ray Observatory

Scientific illustration of M87 black hole taken by Chandra X-ray ObservatoryClick to embiggen
This is not the famous Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) black hole image that you’ve probably seen by now. It’s a visualization of some of the data that helped make that image.

This is a picture of the center of the M87 galaxy taken by the Chandra X-ray Observatory, a telescope that “sees” X-rays. It’s showing, among other things, a jet of energy emerging from the area around the black hole – basically spewing from the pole of the black hole near the speed of light.

From the NASA Chandra image page:

To complement the EHT findings, several NASA spacecraft were part of a large effort, coordinated by the EHT’s Multiwavelength Working Group, to observe the black hole using different wavelengths of light. As part of this effort, NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) and Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory space telescope missions, all attuned to different varieties of X-ray light, turned their gaze to the M87 black hole around the same time as the EHT in April 2017. NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope was also watching for changes in gamma-ray light from M87 during the EHT observations. If EHT observed changes in the structure of the black hole’s environment, data from these missions and other telescopes could be used to help figure out what was going on.

While NASA observations did not directly trace out the historic image, astronomers used data from NASA’s Chandra and NuSTAR satellites to measure the X-ray brightness of M87’s jet. Scientists used this information to compare their models of the jet and disk around the black hole with the EHT observations. Other insights may come as researchers continue to pore over these data.

There are many remaining questions about black holes that the coordinated NASA observations may help answer. Mysteries linger about why particles get such a huge energy boost around black holes, forming dramatic jets that surge away from the poles of black holes at nearly the speed of light. When material falls into the black hole, where does the energy go?