Astronomers Capture Historic First Photo of Black Hole Best.

The image you see above is not an out-of-focus donut. That’s the supermassive black hole at the center of the distant Messier 87 galaxy, the first-ever image of a real black hole. It took a team of more than 200 astronomers to pull this off, along with eight massive radio telescopes organized into the “Event Horizon Telescope” or ETH. This is an opportunity for scientists to test some of the most complex predictions of general relativity.

The M87 galaxy is a supergiant about 55 million light-years away in the constellation Virgo. It’s famous for the relativistic jet of plasma emanating from its core. It’s also a strong radio radiation source. Those facts led astronomers to surmise that M87 hosts an active supermassive black hole in its center, and the newly released images seem to confirm that.

What you’re seeing in the image above is not technically the black hole itself — the singularity in the center is unobservable by any known means because signals cannot return after crossing the event horizon boundary. That boundary in space is what you’re actually seeing, silhouetted by superheated material spinning around the event horizon at nearly the speed of light. The eight radio telescopes combined to produce a magnification equivalent to reading text on a phone in New York from a sidewalk in Paris, according to MIT. That’s 3 million times better than human 20/20 vision.

The M87 galaxy with plasma stream visible.

General relativity predicts that the gravitational field of a black hole bends light into a lopsided ring. That seems like a fair description of the newly released image. The material rotating around toward us appears brighter, confirming that aspect of Einstein’s calculations.

The ETH began observing M87 back in 2017, but it took a great deal of effort to process the mountain of data (multiple petabytes for each station) into usable sets. Then, the verified data went to four separate teams around the world to generate images. Each one used a different technique to process the data, ensuring we see an accurate representation of the black hole’s event horizon.

More radio observatories are scheduled to join the ETH network soon. That will allow scientists to capture an even sharper view of M87 but also other objects. The larger array might even have enough power to peer through the heart of the Milky Way to see our own local black hole, known as Sagittarius A*.

Now read:

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top