Researchers Finally Captured the First Image of a Black Hole

Researchers Finally Captured the First Image of a Black Hole

Researchers Finally Captured the First Image of a Black Hole
Image Credits: Fortune

Astronomers have taken the first image of a black hole, in the core of Messier 87 (M-87) galaxy, by using a virtual telescope of the size of the Earth.

Scientists collected the data from a network of 8 radio telescopes (Event Horizon Telescope) around the world to create a picture which shows the violent neighborhood around the monstrous supermassive black hole of M-87. This giant elliptical galaxy is a popular target for amateur astronomers as it is one of the brightest radio sources. It is located at a distance of 55 million light-years from our planet and resides in the constellation Virgo. The black hole is 6.5 billion times more massive than our sun but is squeezed into a region of about 40-billion-kilometers (the size of our solar system). Heino Falcke, a Professor at the Radboud University who proposed the experiment, talked about the discovery in the following words:

“What we see is larger than the size of our entire Solar System. It has a mass 6.5 billion times greater that of the Sun. And it is one of the heaviest black holes that we think exists. It is an absolute monster, the heavyweight champion of black holes in the Universe.”

The First Image of a Black Hole

The image showed a lopsided ring of light-emitting particles around the black hole to suggest that it is perfectly circular. Falcke described the image as an intensely bright “ring of fire”. Researchers mentioned that the light observed in this image is brighter than all the billions of other stars in M-87 combined. The intensity of this light is the reason why we were able to observe this black hole at such an incredible distance. The image closely resembles the simulations that were based on the equations of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. Shep Doeleman, the Director of the Event Horizon Telescope Project, referred to that by saying,

We have seen what we thought was unseeable. We have seen and taken a picture of a black hole. We now have visual evidence for a black hole. We now know that a black hole that weighs 6.5 billion times what our sun does exists in the center of M-87. This is the strongest evidence we have to date for the existence of black holes. It is also consistent … with Einstein’s predictions.”

The Significance of this Discovery

The entire scientific community of the world was waiting eagerly for the announcement, which was finally made simultaneously at multiple news conferences around the world. The scale of this event was somewhat similar to what we got for the discovery of the Higgs Boson and the first detection of gravitational waves. After a successful viewing of the humungous black hole of M-87, the Event Horizon Telescope is expected to capture the supermassive black hole at the heart of the Milky Way, which is named as Sagittarius A* (Sgr A*).

Sgr A* is located right at the core of our galaxy at a distance of 26,000 light-years from us. In comparison to the black hole of M-87, it is extremely modest weighing only a 4.3 million solar masses. Astronomers have been studying this black hole for years but no one has been able to get a sight of this powerful beast, which produces enormous gravitational effects that can be seen in the movement of nearby stars. Doeleman made his intentions pretty clear that he wants to view this supermassive black hole especially after the recent success of M-87. He said,

“Sgr A* is also a very interesting target. We should be able to resolve it. M-87 is the first source we imaged. … We’re very excited to work on Sgr A*. We’re not promising anything, but we hope to get that soon.”

Shadow of Horizon

Although direct viewing of black holes is not possible, radiation produced by them (upon engulfing surrounding material at great speed) are visible across multiple wavelengths. The first direct image of a black hole is actually the shadow of its horizon, which refers to the point that separates the normal universe from the unknowable. Everything that crosses the event horizon becomes lost forever for the known universe. Having said that, scientists are hopeful that they will continue to image more black holes following this amazing feat.  

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