On Wednesday, Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) researchers unveiled the first ever image of a black hole.
In a press release Wednesday, the European Southern Observatory announced the momentous achievement (formatting adjusted):
The Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) — a planet-scale array of eight ground-based radio telescopes forged through international collaboration — was designed to capture images of a black hole. Today, in coordinated press conferences across the globe, EHT researchers reveal that they have succeeded, unveiling the first direct visual evidence of a supermassive black hole and its shadow.
This breakthrough was announced today in a series of six papers published in a special issue of The Astrophysical Journal Letters. The image reveals the black hole at the centre 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.
“We have taken the first picture of a black hole,” EHT project director Sheperd S. Doeleman said Wednesday in a quote included in the press release. “This is an extraordinary scientific feat accomplished by a team of more than 200 researchers.”
Here is the image simultaneously released by the teams of researchers:
The ESO explains that the EHT “links telescopes around the globe to form an unprecedented Earth-sized virtual telescope,” allowing researchers to see objects only before theorized by Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity.
“The construction of the EHT and the observations announced today represent the culmination of decades of observational, technical, and theoretical work,” the ESO explains. “This example of global teamwork required close collaboration by researchers from around the world. Thirteen partner institutions worked together to create the EHT, using both pre-existing infrastructure and support from a variety of agencies. Key funding was provided by the US National Science Foundation (NSF), the EU’s European Research Council (ERC), and funding agencies in East Asia.”
The group’s press release quotes the chair of the EHT Science Council, Heino Falcke, who describes what the image shows: “If immersed in a bright region, like a disc of glowing gas, we expect a black hole to create a dark region similar to a shadow — something predicted by Einstein’s general relativity that we’ve never seen before,” said Falcke. “This shadow, caused by the gravitational bending and capture of light by the event horizon, reveals a lot about the nature of these fascinating objects and has allowed us to measure the enormous mass of M87’s black hole.”
Below is footage of one of the research teams unveiling the image:
“Once we were sure we had imaged the shadow, we could compare our observations to extensive computer models that include the physics of warped space, superheated matter and strong magnetic fields,” EHT board member Paul T.P. Ho explained in a statement. “Many of the features of the observed image match our theoretical understanding surprisingly well. This makes us confident about the interpretation of our observations, including our estimation of the black hole’s mass.”
Cardiff University issued its own announcement of the achievement with a video on Twitter:
Global Times highlighted just “how close” French astrophysicist Jean-Pierre Luminet was in 1979 in his predictions of what a black hole would look:
In celebration of the achievement, the Chandra Observatory issued a series of tweets about its own observations of black holes: