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EHT Collaboration

Images of a black hole reveal how cosmic beasts change over time

In 2017, astrophysicists took the first photo of a black hole (seen above)—one that lies 55 million light-years away from Earth in the Messier 87 (M87) galaxy—and noticed a shadow covering the red-hot plasma flowing into it. Using mathematical modeling and data collected with the Event Horizon Telescope, scientists built on this single snapshot and created a sequence of images using data from 2009 to 2017. Now, for the first time, they are seeing how a black hole’s appearance changes through time, Science News reports. M87s’ black hole looks like a ring, and the brightest spot swiveled around the ring over the years; for example, the left side was brightest in 2011 but darkest in 2013. The black hole’s changing appearance is due to variations in its environment, such as the strength of its magnetic fields, how fast it spins, and its tilt.

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