A team of scientists has captured the first detailed image of an active galactic nucleus, a structure of dust and gas that surrounds a supermassive black hole.
The observation was achieved by scientists from Leiden University in the Netherlands with the MATISSE interferometry instrument mounted on the large telescope in the Atacama desert in Chile.
In an article published in the journal Naturethe lead author of the study, Mexican astronomer Violeta Gámez-Rosas, explains that the observations provide the clearest evidence for the theory of active galactic nuclei, which holds that jets of plasma are emitted from this region and that they constitute one of the brightest objects in the universe.
The observed nucleus belongs to the galaxy NGC1068, also known as Messier 77, located about 47 million light years from the constellation Cetus and which has a supermassive black hole of several solar masses.
According to the astronomer, the black hole is covered by disks of gas and dust, with temperatures that vary between 0 and 1,200 degrees Celsius. The variations in the temperature of the material allowed the experts to build a map of the galactic nucleus and, with it, determine the location of the black hole at the center of Messier 77.
“This finding is a great step forward in understanding the functioning of active galactic nuclei,” said Gámez-Rosas. According to the expert, the observations will allow “to better understand the history of the Milky Way, whose supermassive black hole in its center could have been active in the past.”
The image and the data obtained will allow experts to understand how matter is organized around the active nucleus, how it feeds the black hole and how the dust cloud is organized depending on the energy released.