Scientists share first-ever closeup photo of a black hole

By Brooks Hays
The first image of a black hole showcases the supermassive black hole at the center of the galaxy M87. Photo by Event Horizon Telescope
1 of 2 | The first image of a black hole showcases the supermassive black hole at the center of the galaxy M87. Photo by Event Horizon Telescope

April 10 (UPI) -- An international team of scientists shared the first image of a supermassive black hole captured by the Event Horizon Telescope on Wednesday morning.

"This is an extraordinary scientific feat accomplished by a team of more than 200 researchers," EHT project director Sheperd Doeleman said in a news release.


Researchers with the Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration presented the "groundbreaking result" during six simultaneous press conferences held around the globe.

"Scientists have obtained the first image of a black hole, using Event Horizon Telescope observations of the center of the galaxy M87," officials with EHT project announced on Twitter. "The image shows a bright ring formed as light bends in the intense gravity around a black hole that is 6.5 billion times more massive than the sun."

Black holes are regions of spacetime where gravity is so strong that nothing, not even light, can escape it.

"Black holes are the most mysterious objects in the Universe," Doeleman said during the press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

Doeleman said the image could have been just a blob, but they were thrilled to have captured the donut-like appearance of the accretion disk surrounding the black hole's shadow.


Though both exciting and surprising, the photograph closely matched the theoretical predictions of black hole experts and the computer models they've designed.

"Once we were sure we had imaged the shadow, we could compare our observations to extensive computer models that include the physics of warped space, superheated matter and strong magnetic fields. Many of the features of the observed image match our theoretical understanding surprisingly well," said Paul T.P. Ho, a board member on the project and director of the East Asian Observatory. "This makes us confident about the interpretation of our observations, including our estimation of the black hole's mass."

The image is the result of a massive collaboration involving the efforts of hundreds astronomers from all over the globe. For nearly two decades, multiple teams have worked to coordinate the observations of eight radio telescopes using Very Long Baseline Interferometry.

"This technique of linking radio dishes across the globe to create an Earth-sized interferometer, has been used to measure the size of the emission regions of the two supermassive black holes with the largest apparent event horizons," according to EHT.

The technique allowed astronomers to combine the power of massive observatories, including: ALMA, APEX, the IRAM 30-meter telescope, the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope, the Large Millimeter Telescope Alfonso Serrano, the Submillimeter Array, the Submillimeter Telescope and the South Pole Telescope.


Scientists used the global telescope network to target Sagittarius A, the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way, and the supermassive black hole at the center of M87, a supergiant elliptical galaxy located 53 million light-years away.

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