Astronomers take first photo of a black hole

Pablo Tucker
February 2, 2020

The black hole revealed on Wednesdayhas a mass calculated to be 6.5 billion times that of the sun, scientists said.

To try and capture an actual image of an item that was theorized by Einstein, a network of eight ground-based radio telescopes around the globe teamed up to operate together as if they were one telescope the size of our entire planet.

"The successful imaging of the black hole in the center of M87 is just the beginning of the EHT collaboration", commented Director Shen Zhiqiang of the Shanghai Astronomical Observatory.

One of the experts at the Shanghai event said that scientists now have much understanding of the light and materials surrounding the black hole, but knowledge of the shadow measuring 100 billion km in diameter, remains blank.

Not all photons can make this great escape; the skill is reserved for light rays with a millimeter wavelength.


The researchers are also working on taking a clear photo of the black hole in the center of the Milky Way.

Messier 87 (M87) is a behemoth elliptical galaxy that sits some 53 million light-years from Earth.

In a report from The Harvard Gazette, EHT Director Sheperd Doeleman points out that the event opens up an entirely new door to scientists.

What the image shows is gas heated to millions of degrees by the friction of ever-stronger gravity, scientists said. For the Event Horizon Telescope to work, these waves must be matched wave-for-wave at each and every station. "By getting radio telescopes around the world to work in concert like one instrument, the EHT team achieved this, decades ahead of time". It is along those edges that light bends around itself in a cosmic funhouse effect. As Salon has previously explained, imaging a black hole directly is impossible, given that they do not emit light; rather, astronomers aim to capture the matter that swirls around them at incredible speed due to their vast gravity, and which often radiates light.

Of all the forces in the universe that we can not directly observe - including dark energy and dark matter - none has frustrated human curiosity as much as black holes.


Congratulating EU-funded researchers, who played a key role in the historic project, European Commissioner Carlos Moedas, responsible for research, science and innovation, said: "Fiction often inspires science, and black holes have long fuelled our dreams and curiosity".

More than just historical value, the photo of the black hole is an important step forward in continuing to study space. Scientists believe this type of black hole is as small as a single atom but with the mass of a large mountain. The mystique of black holes in the community is very substantial. It confirms the existence and properties of black holes, which until now, have been entirely based on indirect observations.

"The yellow is the most intense emission, the red is less intense, and then black is little or no emission at all", Fox said.

But how do you take a picture of something that doesn't radiate light? Since the idea of a black hole was formulated in the late 1700s scientists have speculated and simulated what these kinds of images would look like.

Editor's note: The Event Horizon Telescope was funded in part by the National Science Foundation, which also supports the PBS NewsHour.


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