We’ve detected black holes time and time again, but we’ve always relied on indirect evidence to do so. But that all changed today with the first-ever image of an event horizon, the “point of no return” of a black hole.
The Event Horizon Telescope consortium unveiled its first black hole image today. The “telescope” is actually a group of telescopes around the planet to create what the project refers to as a “planet-sized virtual telescope.”
“This is an extraordinary scientific feat accomplished by a team of more than 200 researchers,” EHT project director Sheperd S. Doeleman said in a press release.
The first result was not, as many suspected, an image of the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy, but was instead the one at the center of M87, a giant galaxy 53 million light years away. The supermassive black hole at the center of that galaxy weighs 6 billion solar masses. The black hole at the center of our own galaxy is just 4 million solar masses.
Doeleman says M87 was easier to image because it changes less over the course of an evening, but that the group continues to work on the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy, known as Sagitarrius A*.
Along with the radio telescopes linked worldwide, the EHT relied on data from space-based observatories like Chandra to image activity at M87.
Previous black hole detections have relied on indirect detection. For instance, several have been detected based on jets of material radiating from their center in X-ray light, while others have been detected based on the ripples they make in the fabric of space. But this is the first time an event horizon has been imaged directly.
Other images are likely to come out over the next few months, with upgrades to the worldwide telescope array helping refine data further. This includes the potential for better algorithmic rendering as well as new telescopes joining the virtual telescope. In other words, this fuzzy image is just the beginning of black hole astronomy rather than the end.
Originally posted on Popular Mechanics