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Astronomers have gotten their first glimpse of the magnetic fields tangled around a black hole.

The Event Horizon Telescope has unveiled the magnetism of the hot, glowing gas around the supermassive black hole at the heart of galaxy M87, researchers report in two studies published online March 24 in the Astrophysical Journal Letters. These magnetic fields are thought to play a crucial role in how the black hole scarfs down matter and launches powerful plasma jets thousands of light-years into space (SN: 3/29/19).

“We’ve known for decades that jets are in some sense powered by accretion onto supermassive black holes, and that the in-spiraling gas and the outflowing plasma are highly magnetized — but there was a lot of uncertainty in the exact details,” says Eileen Meyer, an astrophysicist at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County not involved in the work. “The magnetic field structure of the plasma near the event horizon [of a black hole] is a completely new piece of information.”

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