In a galaxy far far away, astronomers finally imaged the picture of an all-consuming elusive cosmic phenomenon – Black Holes!
- After thirteen years of studies and observations, the Event Horizon Telescope (ETM) project released the first true image of a black hole
- Black Holes were first conceptualized in 17th century and was theoretically conceived in Einstein’s theory of relativity
- Simultaneous press conferences in six places around the world made the announcement which was greeted with cheers by scientific community
- The grand International collaboration involved 200 members, and eight telescopes around the world
Scientists from European Southern Observatory reveal the first ever image of a black hole at a press conference | Credits: EHT/European Southern Observatory/PA Wire
April 10th was a remarkable day in the history of human intelligence. It signified how far we have come in our knowledge and understanding of our universe.
After thirteen years of prolonged efforts, the Event Horizon Telescope (ETM) project team released the first true image of a black hole. The unidentifiable and most mind-boggling entity in the universe.
Black holes are cosmic monsters with gravity so immense that even light cannot escape.
Simultaneous press conferences in six places around the world made the announcement. They were greeted by cheers, gasps, and applause from awestruck scientists and enthusiasts across the globe.
The finding is a result of a grand international collaboration involving 200 members, and eight telescopes. The black hole is nicknamed Pōwehi, which means “embellished dark source of unending creation” in Hawaiian.
A brief dive into history
The concept of Black Holes – bodies so massive that even light can’t escape – was first put forward by astronomer John Michell in 1783. Since then, black holes have captured minds of scientists and common public alike.
With the third coming i.e.
Works of Albert Einstein and Karl Schwarzschild helped bring Black Holes into mainstream science
, black holes further sparked curiosity with strong theoretical evidence.
In simplified words, a black hole is a cosmic entity in which massive matter (thousand, million or even billion times the size of our Sun) collapses into an extremely compact form known as singularity.
With gravitational effect so strong that not even light (which is the faster than anything else) can escape from inside it. This is in line with Einstein’s theory of general relativity.
Some black holes are formed by collapse of massive stars and are known as ‘Stellar Black Holes’. Even bigger entities known as Supermassive Black Holes are found in the center of galaxies. The origins of Supermassive Black Holes is an open field of research with multiple hypothesis.
— Physics Today (@PhysicsToday) April 10, 2019
Black holes have caught the imagination of scientists and artists for almost a century.
Numerous speculative renditions and computer aided creations have been a part culture in sci-fi movies and fiction novels. But that’s not the case anymore.
The Event Horizon Telescope Project
The EHT is an international collaboration which linked eight radio telescopes in different parts of the world from volcanoes in Hawai and Mexico, mountains in Arizona and the Spanish Sierra Nevada, the Chilean Atacama Desert, and Antarctica.
EHT team of scientists and engineers from 15000 ft above sea level at the Large Millimeter Telescope (LMT) in Mexico.
Forming an Earth-sized virtual telescope with unprecedented sensitivity and resolution, the EHT looked at two supermassive black holes- Sagittarius A* (located at the center of the Milky Way) and M87 (at the center of one of the closest galaxies named Messier 87.
Looking at the Black Hole can be compared to identifying a small tennis ball on the surface of the moon with a naked eye view.
The EHT observation use a technique which synchronized the 8 telescopes and leveraged Earth’s rotation to form one massive, Earth-size telescope. The EHT team over years, collated over 27 Petabytes of raw data from the telescopes using specialized supercomputers.
An EHT team member with hard drives that stored the entire data that went into creating the image. | Credits: CTV
The first Black Hole ever imaged
The image released reveals the black hole at the center of Messier 87, a massive galaxy in the nearby Virgo supercluster (large cluster of galaxies). The M87 is 55 million light-years (roughly 500 million trillion kms) away from Earth. Its mass is an incomprehensible 6.5 billion times that of our Sun (which is 333,000 times the mass of Earth).
Scientists had observed the M87 emitting a violent jet of energy, known as Quasars, some 5,000 light-years into space.
The image captured shows a bright ring which is the event horizon of the black hole.
The ring is due to light bending due to intense gravitational pull. One of the scientists work in the EHT team explained that once the shadow had been imaged, it was compared to extensive computer models.
Many of the features of the observed image matched our current theoretical understanding of the cosmic entity.
Why is it a Big Deal?
The image offered concrete evidence that the shape of the shadow is circular, as Einstein’s theory had predicted. It should be noted that during the time of Einstein, the idea was so disturbing that even he himself found it hard to accept.
The genius even questioned his own theory which was garnering wide acclaim.
“We have seen what we thought was unseeable,”
said Shep Doeleman, Director of EHT Project in one of the press conferences in Washington DC.
The image will enable scientists around the world a new way to study the objects. A fun fact is that the achievement comes in the centennial year of the historic experiment that confirmed the existence of Black Holes, based on Einstein’s general relativity.
EHT Science Council Heino Falcke explained that if a black hole is immersed in a bright region, it is expected to create a dark region similar to a shadow, as predicted by Einstein’s theory. The shadow, caused by the gravitational bending and capture of light by the event horizon reveals a lot of information about nature of black holes. This allowed scientists to measure the enormous mass of M87’s black hole.
All 8 telescopes that were used by the EHT Team to make the image. | Credits: PBS
The announcement combines decades of observational, technical, and theoretical work from hundreds of bright minds. As Doeleman concluded:
“We have achieved something presumed to be impossible just a generation ago,”
Doeleman refers to technology advancements which helped connect the world’s best radio observatories to open a new bag of possible researches based on the image.
Viewing a black hole in acuity is impossible but the strong gravity helps envision the event horizon where matter starts falling the black hole.
Scientists and amateur enthusiasts the world over are amazed and incredibly happy that the actual image was surprisingly unsurprising and just as theories have predicted.
It has proved without a doubt that such evasive, incomprehensible and enigmatic entities do exist.
- The black hole imaged is 55 million light years away and nicknamed Pōwehi, which means “embellished dark source of unending creation” in Hawaii
- Observation used a technique which synchronized 8 telescopes and leveraged Earth’s rotation to form one massive, virtualized Earth-size telescope.
- The image confirms the theory that such massive invisible but incomprehensibly strong entities exist beyond our cosmic horizons.
- The capture of light by the event horizon is expected to help scientists reveal a lot more information about nature of black holes.