First black hole photo opens up an infinity of possibilities

The first black hole photo sprouted wonder and curiosity throughout; learn about the process behind the now iconic image.


Photo by Rice

The first image of a black hole may have been blurry, but this is one large leap for mankind.

Story by Dylan Reece, Editor In Chief

  Black holes have been a mystery for years, and the dream of ever seeing one was thought impossible. But on Apr. 10, an image of a supermassive black hole was released to the public.    The photo was taken by a team of roughly 200 researchers from the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) who spent over a decade researching and attempting to take the image of Galaxy M87’s black hole. This sky-shattering image has helped prove Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity. While taking an image of a black hole is actually impossible since its gravitational pull is so strong it sucks light in, in this case, a black hole of this size ejects supercharged particles that illuminate around it, leaving the projection of the event horizon visible to the human eye. This image will allow scientists to further test Einstein’s theory of General Relativity.

  “In a paradox of its own gravity you wind up seeing it because all the gas and dust that’s attracted to it gets crushed into a smaller and smaller volume, causing it to heat up to hundreds of billions of degrees. So you wind up with a 3-D flashlight illuminating all the space-time around the black hole,” said Sheperd Doeleman, the director of the EHT.

  How this photo was taken is just as amazing as the photo itself. EHT used six giant telescope arrays positioned across the globe to basically turn Earth into a radio dish; this allowed the team to receive data of the black hole and piece together the photo. This tactic can only be used for supermassive black holes, because the telescopes can only detect it when it’s insanely bright. But the EHT are hoping to take pictures of a supermassive black hole binary, which is two black holes orbiting each other.

 “The EHT observations require measurements of light received from M87 every nanosecond in order to properly sample the incoming high-frequency radio waves. We capture and freeze that light locally at each telescope. Storing that information requires hundreds of terabytes of space, shipped around the globe for later combination by a supercomputer. High-quality data from a wide array of telescopes let us form images that we trust,” said Daniel Palumbo,a scientist from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA).

  While the thought of something that weighs 6.5 billion times the mass of the sun and 38 billion kilometers in diameter is astonishing, we still know very little about black holes. This image and the technology that provided the image will help shine a light into the mystery that is black holes.

  “We normally think of a black hole as invisible because it doesn’t let any light out, but the fact that we can image something that’s not there is really exciting. There’s millions and billions of black holes in the universe so I think this is the beginning of getting a lot more information about black holes which I think a lot of people are interested in,” said Mrs. Nelson, the physics teacher.