The core of massive galaxy M87 as viewed in X-rays by ESA’s XMM-Newton space observatory.
A giant elliptical galaxy, M87 is home to several trillion stars, making it one of the most massive galaxies in the local Universe. About 52 million light years away, it is located at the centre of the Virgo cluster, the nearest cluster of galaxies to the Local Group, to which our own Milky Way galaxy belongs.
A supermassive black hole as massive as billions of stars like our Sun sits at the core of M87, accreting material from its surroundings at an extremely intense rate. The black hole’s accretion produces powerful jets that launch energetic particles close to the speed of light outwards into the surrounding cluster environment, as well as inflating giant bubbles that lift cooler gas from the cluster centre and form the filamentary structures visible in this image.
The activity of the black hole also generates shock waves, such as the circular feature that can be seen around the centre of the image.
This view is based on data collected at X-ray energies between 0.3 and 7 keV with the EPIC camera onboard XMM-Newton on 16 July 2017. The image spans 40 arcminutes on each side.
On 10 April 2019, the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) – a planet-scale array of eight ground-based radio telescopes forged through international collaboration – presented the first direct visual evidence of a supermassive black hole and its shadow: the black hole at the core of M87. The EHT observations were also performed in 2017.