Science

Why this black hole photo is such a big deal

Why this black hole photo is such a big deal”

The picture was compiled by the Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration, a group of scientists around the world bent on proving the existence of black holes and documenting what they look like despite the fact that they can not release light.

"We have now seen what we thought was unseeable", EHT project director Sheperd Doeleman said during a press conference in Washington on Wednesday. NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, and Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory space telescope missions all participated as well as NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope. It has a mass 6.5 billion times that of the sun. Or like it is inevitably going to inspire a special-edition Krispy Kreme doughnut.

This bright image was revealed by researchers at a number of worldwide press conferences today, and detailed in a set of papers in the Astrophysical Journal Letters. And that gravity creates a funhouse effect where you see light from both behind the black hole and behind you as the light curves and circles around the black hole itself, said astronomer Avi Loeb, director of the Black Hole Initiative at Harvard. M87's black hole "appears to be affecting the clusters of galaxies near M87 on the scale of hundreds or tens of hundreds of millions of years".

Assembling data gathered by eight radio telescopes around the world, astronomers captured a picture of the hot, shadowy edges of a supermassive black hole, the light-sucking monsters of the universe theorized by Einstein more than a century ago and confirmed by observations for decades.

The results confirm that the hot gas swirling around a black hole is traveling at almost the speed of light, creating a chaotic maelstrom around the black hole itself.

A number of NASA spacecraft also contributed to the efforts, collecting data on the black hole with different wavelengths of light. To accomplish this, the planet-sized telescope uses ultra-precise atomic clocks, which time stamp the data. "Having spent about 20 years helping to visualize the high-energy universe, I am seeing this silhouette of a black hole".

"You cannot see a black hole, but you can actually see its shadow", Moedas said.

EHT's telescopes work together to create a "virtual telescope" that is the diameter of Earth, allowing scientists to capture very faint objects in the sky. Scientists believe this type of black hole is as small as a single atom but with the mass of a large mountain. It confirms the existence and properties of black holes, which until now, have been entirely based on indirect observations.

"That's why we often say that the black hole is like the atom of the 21st century". But the more distant one was easier to take pictures of because it rotates more slowly.

Editor's note: The Event Horizon Telescope was funded in part by the National Science Foundation, which also supports the PBS NewsHour.

"We think the spin of the black hole interacting with the magnetic field is what causes the jets, but we don't have proof", Feryal Özel, University of Arizona astrophysicist and EHT team member, told Astronomy in an interview.



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