A black hole has been pictured expelling a powerful jet for the first time.
The image shows a glowing circle at the centre of a galaxy known as Messier 87 (M87), around 55 million light-years from Earth.
A light-year is the distance light travels in a year, which is 5.9 trillion miles (9.5 trillion kilometres).
Emerging from the black hole is a large bright jet connected with the matter swirling around it.
Scientists used data gathered from more than a dozen telescopes worldwide to piece together the picture.
Jae-Young Kim, from the Kyungpook National University in South Korea and the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Germany, said: “This new image completes the picture by showing the region around the black hole and the jet at the same time.”
The M87 black hole is supermassive, with a mass 6.5 billion times that of our sun and is larger and more luminous than our Milky Way.
It was first captured four years ago as a fuzzy, fiery doughnut-shaped object, but not its jet.
But using data from 14 telescopes located as far apart as Greenland and Chile, astronomers created an image of the M87 black hole showing a powerful jet emerging from its shadow – the dark region encircled by the bright light ring.
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This ring is created by material glowing very hot as it circles the black hole.
Black holes are celestial entities that have such a strong gravitational pull that no matter or light can escape.
The European Southern Observatory said the current image was obtained using radio light emitted at a longer wavelength, which made the jet visible.
Thomas Krichbaum, of the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy, said: “At this wavelength, we can see how the jet emerges from the ring of emission around the central supermassive black hole.”
The researchers said they would continue to investigate how supermassive black holes emit powerful jets – one of the galaxy’s most mysterious features.
Eduardo Ros, from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy, said: “We plan to observe the region around the black hole at the centre of M87 at different radio wavelengths to further study the emission of the jet.
“Such simultaneous observations would allow the team to disentangle the complicated processes that happen near the supermassive black hole.
“The coming years will be exciting, as we will be able to learn more about what happens near one of the most mysterious regions in the Universe.”
The observations are described in the journal Nature.