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Drawn out of darkness: Astronomers unveil first-ever image of a black hole

4/10/2019, 6:03:06 PM

by Brian Lada

On Wednesday, astronomers announced a ground-breaking discovery, revealing the first images of one of the most powerful forces in the entire universe.

An international group of astronomers used a new type of telescope to capture the first-ever images of a black hole, an object once thought as unseeable.

“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,” according to the EHT press release.

“The EHT links telescopes around the globe to form an Earth-sized virtual telescope with unprecedented sensitivity and resolution [3]. The EHT is the result of years of international collaboration, and offers scientists a new way to study the most extreme objects in the Universe,” the press release said.

black hole

Scientists have obtained the first image of a black hole, using Event Horizon Telescope observations of the center of the galaxy M87. The image shows a bright ring formed as light bends in the intense gravity around a black hole that is 6.5 billion times more massive than the Sun. This long-sought image provides the strongest evidence to date for the existence of supermassive black holes and opens a new window onto the study of black holes, their event horizons, and gravity. Credit: Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration

A black hole is a place in space where gravity is so strong that not even light can escape. These can form and a massive star collapses in upon itself in a supernova explosion, according to NASA.

Since light cannot escape the overwhelming grip of a black hole’s gravity, it cannot be photographed like other objects in the universe. Instead, astronomers captured images of the silhouette that a black hole cast on a bright background.

"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," explained chair of the EHT Science Council Heino Falcke of Radboud University, the Netherlands. "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 allowed us to measure the enormous mass of M87’s black hole."

The black hole shown in the newly-released images is located in the center of galaxy M87, a large galaxy around 55 million light-years from Earth.

The EHT is comprised of telescopes scattered across several continents, as no single telescope is able to make such detailed observations. This includes a telescope in Spain, Chile, Mexico, Arizona, Hawaii and Antarctica.

The amount of data gathered by the telescopes was so immense that it could not be transferred through the internet.

“What we actually do is, we take our hard drives and we FedEx them from place to place. This is much faster than any cable that you can ever find,” EHT project scientist Dimitrios Psaltis, an astronomy professor at the University of Arizona, said at a press conference on Wednesday.

In addition to taking images of a black hole for the first time, the findings from the research were used to determine if Einstein’s theory of relativity needs to be revised.

Researchers found that the observations of the black hole were consistent with Einstein’s theory, meaning that no adjustments need to be made at this time.

The findings will also help scientists to better-understand the complex nature of black holes.

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The same team of astronomers is also working to produce an image of another black hole, Sagittarius A*, a super-massive black hole around 26,000 light-years from Earth.

This will also open the door for further discoveries about black holes.

"We have achieved something presumed to be impossible just a generation ago," concluded EHT Collaboration Director Sheperd S.Doeleman. "Br

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