A pioneering group of astronomers have just unveiled the first ever close up pictures of a black hole.
Described as a major breakthrough in our understanding of the universe, this image was captured by a global network of scientists who make up the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) team.
The EHT project was first launched as of April 2017, with the team having spent the past two years acquiring and processing data obtained from eight radio telescopes from across the globe.
These telescopes had been focused on two black holes, one at the heart of our Milky Way galaxy – known as Sagittarius A (SgrA) – and another – known as M87 – which is almost 54 million light years away.
The images of course do not show a black hole itself as any light which would make it visible would be swallowed. We can however see the event horizon around the brink of the hole, something scientists have been trying to do for years.
Located 26,000 light years away from planet earth, SgrA is thought to measure over 22 million kilometres in width. Meanwhile, M87 shoots out a notably fast jet consisting of charged subatomic particles, stretching for approximately 5,000 light years.
The #EventHorizonTelescope has been observing 2 supermassive black holes, the one in the center of our galaxy and another in a galaxy called Messier 87 or Virgo A. Tomorrow we will know if they have managed to take the first picture of a black hole pic.twitter.com/cw7QctOepC
— Wandering Planet (@wandering_astro) April 9, 2019
Astrophysicist at the European Space Agency, Dr Paul McNamara, told AFP about how scientists came to confirm the existence of black holes half a century ago:
More than 50 years ago, scientists saw there was something very bright at the centre of our galaxy.
Dr McNamara proceeded to explain how scientists realised this bright presence also had a ‘gravitational pull strong enough to make stars orbit around it very quickly – as fast as 20 years’.
After further investigation, scientists came to understand that the object itself was not bright and was in fact completely black. Indeed, the brightness came from gas and plasma located around the edge of the structure, which we now know to be a black hole.
We have never seen a black hole. Black holes are incredibly small for their heft. Dark against a dark backdrop. 4/10 EHT holds a press conference to announce results using global observatories = to a telescope as big as planet Earth. Guess who's going to the National Press Club pic.twitter.com/p12BjzN92j
— Janna Levin (@JannaLevin) April 8, 2019
Going forward, it is hoped this latest development will help to draw connections between Einstein’s theory of general relativity and quantum mechanics.
Einstein’s theory of general relativity concerns laws of nature on cosmic scales, while quantum mechanics is in regard to subatomic particles where there is the possibility of being in more than one place at once. These two bodies of thought have previously been considered to be fundamentally opposed.
Physicist Lia Medeiros told ScienceNews:
General relativity as it is and quantum mechanics as it is are incompatible with each other.
Rock, hard place. Something has to give.
I’ve been fascinated with black holes since I first learned about them when I was little. To me, they’re the epitome of cool physics. So, I’ve decided to start an approachable thread (no math involved!) where I introduce BHs and talk about why they’re the shit (1/n)
— Samantha Cabral (@samcabrall) April 4, 2019
What a fascinating and important step forward. Many congratulations to team EHT on their hard work paying off!
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Jules studied English Literature with Creative Writing at Lancaster University before earning her masters in International Relations at Leiden University in The Netherlands (Hoi!). She then trained as a journalist through News Associates in Manchester. Jules has previously worked as a mental health blogger, copywriter and freelancer for various publications.