Scientists captured and released the image of a black hole for the first time ever. The Event Horizon Telescope (EHT), which consists of a network of 8 radio telescopes spread all over the globe, including Antarctica, achieved this milestone.
“Black holes are the universe’s most mysterious objects,” said Shepherd Doeleman, Telescope Director of Event Horizon. “We saw what we thought was invisible.”
What Makes The First Black Hole Special?
Besides being the “first,” tons of other interesting numbers make this milestone very important. The picture taken by the 200 scientists team shows a large dust and gas halo surrounding a black hole in the M87 galaxy, located in the massive galaxy cluster of Virgo, which is about 55 million light-years away from Earth. Speaking of the black hole mass, it has 6.5 billion times the Sun— which is inconceivable for us humans. Scientists also think it’s one of the Universe’s heaviest black holes.
Returning to the effort invested in capturing the first black hole image, the eight EHT telescopes are in Hawaii, Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Chile, and Antarctica.
For the 10 continuous days, the data collected by these telescopes became the backbone of the fascinating image. 64 Gigabits / second of data were recorded by each telescope. So, petabytes of data were gathered just after one night. The data collected by EHT in one night was as much as the data collected by the Large Hadron Collider in one year to put things in perspective. This information was stored in hundreds of hard drives that were transported to U.S. and Germany processing centers. The need for physical transportation arose because when the data volume is in petabytes, it is faster than online transmission.
We’d have seen this picture a few months earlier but because of the Antarctic winter, the scientists had to wait. The weather was warm enough in December 2017 and the aircraft were able to carry the data.
What Is A Black Hole?
You can think of the black hole in simple language as a substantially dense area with a massive amount of matter packed into a very small area. It’s like a star ten times bigger than the sun squeezed into a body as big as New York City, as NASA describes it.
This massive density has a strong gravitational effect in this spacetime region, which does not allow any matter or electromagnetic radiation (light) to escape from it. Black holes were first predicted by the general relativity theory of Einstein, which predicts that an extremely compact mass can change space to create a black hole.
When a massive star reaches its end and results in a dense core, such events take place. It is likely that if that core is about three times the Sun’s mass, the gravitational force will conquer the other forces and create a black hole.
Some of you may find it surprising that Einstein himself was sceptical about the reality of black holes. His general theory of relativity, however, has held up quite well over the years as it passed every test, including the first challenge of the black hole picture. The earlier discovery of gravitational waves and their ripples also suggested that these sinkholes existed.
However, a German astrophysicist called Howard Schwarzschild gave the principle used by the EHT. His formula was inspired by the general relativity theory of Einstein and measured a black hole’s radius. The formula is called the radius of the Schwarzschild.
Scientists have found that the image captured is very similar to what theoretical calculations have shown in the past and what films such as Interstellar have shown on the same basis. “I must admit, I was a bit stunned that it matched the predictions we had made so closely,” said Avery Broderick, member of the EHT team.
All of this is done by a species that only a few decades ago learned to fly. We look right in the eye at cosmic giants while standing in the ever – expanding sky on a small spec of dust. It may be one of human history’s greatest achievements.