First ever black hole image is finally released
On Wednesday the biggest scientific mystery, the dark vision became a visceral realityEuropost
A group of astronomers who run a globe-girdling network of radio telescopes called the Event Horizon Telescope have obtained the first ever direct visual evidence of a supermassive black hole and its shadow, marking a historic breakthrough for science.
Assembling data gathered by eight radio telescopes around the world, for two years, scientists created the mesmerising image of the bright lopsided ring of light surrounding a dark circle deep in the heart of the galaxy M87, showing the world the "face" of a black hole 6.5 billion times more massive than the Sun and located more than 500 million trillion km away.
"What we see is larger than the size of our entire Solar System," Prof Heino Falcke, of Radboud University in the Netherlands, who proposed the experiment said. "It has a mass 6.5 billion times 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."
So why is the image of this light-sucking monster, resembling the Eye of Sauron, so important? Initially, supermassive black holes were predicted by the equations of Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity, as solved by the German physicist Karl Schwarzschild in 1915. That theory ascribes gravity to the warping of space and time by matter and energy, much as a mattress sags under a sleeper. To Einstein’s surprise, the equations indicated that when too much matter or energy was concentrated in one place, space-time could collapse, trapping matter and light in perpetuity. Einstein disliked that idea, but the scientific consensus today is that the universe is speckled with black holes waiting for something to fall in. Many are the gravitational tombstones of stars that have burned up their fuel and collapsed. Others, millions or billions times more massive than the sun, like this one lurk at the centers of galaxies.
Yet those "engines" that generate the prodigious energies of quasars and other explosive galactic nuclei has never seen before. For some years now, scientific literature, news media and films have featured remarkably sophisticated and academic computer simulations of black holes. Yet, it is the actual image that could provide a final, ringing affirmation of an idea so disturbing that even Einstein was loath to accept it.
"Although they are relatively simple objects, black holes raise some of the most complex questions about the nature of space and time, and ultimately of our existence," Dr. Ziri Younsi, of University College London - who is part of the collaboration said. "It is remarkable that the image we observe is so similar to that which we obtain from our theoretical calculations. So far, it looks like Einstein is correct once again."
"We have achieved something presumed to be impossible just a generation ago," Prof. Shep Doeleman - an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and director of the effort to capture the image, during a Wednesday news conference in Washington.
"Breakthroughs in technology, connections between the world's best radio observatories, and innovative algorithms all came together to open an entirely new window on black holes," he added.