It looks like a fiery doughnut in the sky: the first-ever picture of a gigantic black hole.
Astronomers needed more than a century to locate the object and capture its image. But on Wednesday, they announced success — and showed off the picture of what the New York Times describes as “a cosmic abyss so deep and dense that not even light can escape it.”.
See how a planet-size network of radio telescopes assembled the first image of a supermassive black hole https://t.co/tJ8YSv4yep
— The New York Times (@nytimes) April 10, 2019
The supermassive black hole, with a diameter the size of our entire solar system and a mass 7 billion times that of our sun, is located at the heart of the largest known galaxy, Messier 87, in the constellation Virgo.
M-87 is a vast, almost inconceivable, 55 million light-years distant from Earth.
The striking image was revealed at news conferences in seven cities around the globe, including the National Press Club in Washington.
“When the image was put up on the screen in Washington, cheers and gasps, followed by applause, broke out,” reports the Times.
The picture was produced by a network of radio observatories on four continents, collectively called the Event Horizon Telescope. The name comes from the most singular characteristic of a black hole, its “event horizon” — the boundary beyond which not even light can escape its gravity.
A black hole grows ever more massive as it sucks in everything that comes near — entire stars and other objects — which produce the brilliant, fiery disk surrounding the hole, as they are devoured.
“As hot, dense gas swirls around the black hole, like water headed down a drain, the intense pressures and magnetic fields cause energy to squirt from either side. As a paradoxical result, supermassive black holes, which lurk in the centers of galaxies, can be the most luminous objects in the universe,” says the Washington Post.
“The distinctive doughnut shape of the black hole matches what theorists have predicted since they began wrestling with Albert Einstein’s General Theory of Relatively more than a century ago.”
Ironically, even though his own theory pointed to the existence of black holes, the Post says, “Einstein found the notion [of an object so massive not even light could escape] so preposterous that he devoted an entire research paper to debunking it.”
But other scientists began hunting for evidence that black holes existed. That evidence gradually built up, climaxing with the image unveiled Wednesday.
It’s believed that all, or nearly all, galaxies have black holes at their centers. The Event Horizon Telescope array is studying a source of radio noise in the heart of our own Milky Way galaxy, thought to be a black hole with a mass of more than 4 million suns.
Please see the BBC clip above.