UNVEILED: See the first-ever image of a black hole and its fiery halo

2019-04-10 15:18
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 collaboration et al.)

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 collaboration et al.)

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Scientists have managed to capture the first-ever image of a black hole by correlating data from a global network of radio telescopes.

Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) researchers revealed on Wednesday that they have succeeded, unveiling the first direct visual evidence of a supermassive black hole and its shadow.

The 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.

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

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.

European Research Commissioner, Carlos Moedas, hailed the revelation as a "breakthrough for humanity".

"Thanks to the contribution of European scientists, the existence of black holes is no longer just a theoretical concept," he said.

"This amazing discovery proves again how working together with partners around the world can lead to achieving the unthinkable and moving the horizons of our knowledge," said Moedas.

France Córdova, National Science Foundation Director, said the EHT project demonstrates that more collaboration, convergence, shared resources are needed to tackle the universe’s biggest mysteries.

"It was an endeavor so remarkable that National Science Foundation has invested more than $30 million over a decade – joined by many other agencies in our support - as these researchers shaped their idea into reality."

Black holes are described as heavy astronomical objects with extreme density. They create a gravitational pull so strong that not even light can escape.

The problem with trying to see a black hole is that they're either too small or too far away.

Until now no real pictures of a black hole existed other than interpretations.

Astronomers have been investigating black holes since they were first proposed by Albert Einstein.


"The supermassive black hole in the galaxy M87 has a mass 6.5 billion times greater than the Sun, and that it turns clockwise"

One of the EHT project's lead scientists, Frederic Gueth, deputy director of the Institute for Millimetric Radio Astronomy (IRAM) in Grenoble, France, spoke to AFP about the ground-breaking exploit and the science behind it.

How did you do it?

"The EHT marshalled all the millimetric (radio) telescopes on the planet to make the same rigorous observations at exactly the same time.

"By combining the data gathered by all the telescopes - a technique called very long baseline interferometry - we created a virtual antenna the diameter of Earth.

"The millimetric range - measured in thousandths of a metre - turns out to be the best wave length to investigate black holes because the waves pass through the dust clouds that enshroud them. That is not true for infrared."

What do we see in the image?

"By definition, a black hole per se cannot be seen, and never will be.

"But we know that the accretion disk of matter that surrounds a black hole - made up of hot gases we call plasma, along with the debris of stars torn apart by gravity - are brilliant in contrast.

"As long as they have not been swallowed by the black hole, the material can be detected. The objective, then, is to visualise the black hole by contrast.

"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.

"The event horizon is a bit smaller (in diameter) than the shadow. The black hole itself is within the event horizon.

"Our observations revealed that the supermassive black hole in the galaxy M87 has a mass 6.5 billion times greater than the Sun, and that it turns clockwise."

What's next?

"Because it worked so well in 2017, when the observations were made, we are clearly going to do it again!

"The EHT will continue to evolve in the coming years, notably with the addition of two new telescopes: the NOEMA telescope in the French Alps, and the Greenland Telescope.

"The picture from the M87 galaxy emphatically confirms the models we have of rotating black holes. We are seeing exactly what the models predicted. That is satisfying.

"The challenge now will be to measure the exact density of the matter around a black hole, and to better understand the crucial role of magnetic fields, and how matter within the accretion disk rotates."

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