What is a black hole?
A group of astronomers who run a network of telescopes encircling the planet have for the first time ever captured images of the darkest entity in space – a black hole.
Despite recurring appearances in pop culture hits, like “Star Trek” and Christopher’s Nolan’s space flick “Interstellar,” nobody had actually seen a black hole until now. Scientists with the Event Horizon Telescope project and the National Scientists Foundation during a press conference on Wednesday unveiled mankind’s first look at one of the most bewildering occurrences in the cosmos.
“I am delighted to report that we have for the first time seen what we thought was unseeable. We have taken the first picture of a black hole,” said Shep Doeleman, Event Horizon Telescope project director.
“We’ve exposed a part of our universe we’ve never seen before. We find this result inspiring and we hope that everyone else will also find it as inspiring.”
To capture this first image, scientists needed a telescope with the same level of detail as seeing a date on a quarter in Los Angeles from Washington, D.C. – so Event Horizon Telescope project scientists organized and linked radio disc telescopes on five different continents to create “an Earth-sized” camera. In April 2017, “they all swiveled” to observe the same portion of the sky at the exact same time.
Astronomers set out to capture the depths – or the so-called “point of no return” – of a behemoth at the center of Messier 87, a huge giant elliptical galaxy in the Virgo constellation with a jet energy more than 5,000 light years long emitting from it.
It lies about 53.5 million light years from earth with a mass about 6 billion times that of the sun.
Black holes – initially predicted by the equations of Albert Einstein’s theory, as solved by physicist Karl Schwarzschild in 1915 – are “extremely dense pockets of matter, objects of such incredible mass and minuscule volume that they drastically warp the fabric of space time.”
“Anything that passes too close, from a wandering star to a proton of light, gets captured,” according to the National Science Foundation.
“Most black holes are the condensed remnants of a massive star, the collapsed core that remains following an explosive supernova. However, the black hole family tree has several branches, from tiny structures on par with a human cell to enormous giants billions of times more massive than our sun.”
Black holes, defined by being mostly invisible, have proven tricky to study – despite their size and power, “it’s hard to see something that does not emit enough photons, let alone traps any light that passes by,” according NSF astronomers.