7 takeouts on the #EHTBlackHole and its fiery halo: 'Looking at the gates of hell ... the point of no return'

2019-04-10 18:59
This black hole resides 55 million light-years from Earth and has a mass 6.5-billion times that of the Sun. (Event Horizon Telescope)

This black hole resides 55 million light-years from Earth and has a mass 6.5-billion times that of the Sun. (Event Horizon Telescope)

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Of all the forces in the Universe that we can't see, none has frustrated human curiosity as thoroughly as the invisible, star-devouring monsters known as black holes. Astronomers have finally unveiled the first photo of a black hole. Here are some interesting points:

  • A black hole is a celestial object that compresses a huge mass into an extremely small space
  • The first-ever image reveals the black hole at the center of Messier 87, a massive galaxy in the nearby Virgo galaxy cluster
  • This black hole resides 55 million light-years from Earth and has a mass 6.5-billion times that of the Sun
  • It image was captured using the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT), which is unlike any star-gazing instrument ever devised
  • Each is at least as big as a football pitch and together, they form a virtual telescope more than 12 000km across the diameter of Earth
  • Eight such radio telescopes scattered across the globe - in Hawaii, Arizona, Spain, Mexico, Chile, and the South Pole zoomed in on M87 in April 2017. It took another year to piece together the data into an image

  • University of Pretoria astrophysicist, Professor Roger Deane, was part of the remarkable group of scientists who worked on the project

The image of a dark core encircled by a flame-orange halo of white-hot plasma looks like any number of artists' renderings over the last 30 years.

Locking down an image of M87's supermassive black hole at such distance is comparable to photographing a pebble on the Moon, the scientists said.

Earth in a thimble

In the end, M87 was more photogenic. Like a fidgety child, Sag A* was too "active" to capture a clear picture, the scientists said.

"What we see in the image is the shadow of the black hole's rim - known as the event horizon, or the point of no return - set against the luminous accretion disk," Gueth told AFP.


"I never thought that I would see a real one in my lifetime"

"I never thought that I would see a real one in my lifetime," said CNRS astrophysicist Jean-Pierre Luminet, author in 1979 of the first digital simulation of a black hole.

'Hell of a Christmas present'


"It feels like looking at the gates of hell, at the end of space and time"


"When, a few hours later, we saw that everything was there, it was one hell of a Christmas present," Rottmann said.

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