The First-Ever Image Of a Black Hole


The Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) — a planet-scale array of eight ground-based radio telescopes forged through international collaboration — was designed to capture images of a black hole. In coordinated press conferences across the globe, EHT researchers revealed that they succeeded, unveiling the first direct visual evidence of the supermassive black hole in the centre of Messier 87 and its shadow. The shadow of a black hole seen here is the closest we can come to an image of the black hole itself, a completely dark object from which light cannot escape. The black hole’s boundary — the event horizon from which the EHT takes its name — is around 2.5 times smaller than the shadow it casts and measures just under 40 billion km across. While this may sound large, this ring is only about 40 microarcseconds across — equivalent to measuring the length of a credit card on the surface of the Moon. Although the telescopes making up the EHT are not physically connected, they are able to synchronize their recorded data with atomic clocks — hydrogen masers — which precisely time their observations. These observations were collected at a wavelength of 1.3 mm during a 2017 global campaign. Each telescope of the EHT produced enormous amounts of data – roughly 350 terabytes per day – which was stored on high-performance helium-filled hard drives. These data were flown to highly specialised supercomputers — known as correlators — at the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy and MIT Haystack Observatory to be combined. They were then painstakingly converted into an image using novel computational tools developed by the collaboration.

Angie Amato

The first-ever image of a black hole was taken this past week. The black hole was located in the middle of the galaxy M87, which is around 55 million light years away. The image was taken with an algorithm discovered by MIT student Katie Bouman.

The image took eight different telescopes that combined together to take the picture of the black hole. The Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) a planet-scale array of eight ground-based radio telescopes forged through international collaboration, was designed to capture images of a black hole.

“We have seen what we thought was unseeable. We have seen and taken a picture of a black hole,” Sheperd Doeleman, EHT Director and astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

The size of the black hole is 6.5 billion times bigger than the sun. Black holes are suspected stars that have exploded or collapsed. Black holes are huge regions of space that have such a strong gravitational pull, that nothing can escape from it, not even light.

This is an important discovery for scientists everywhere. This opens up a whole new world of studies and research around black holes. Although the image is pretty blurry, it is a great start. Senior Ryan O’Toole said, “The picture of the black hole is not what I expected a black hole to look like.”

Senior Dean Danckaert said, “I feel that the picture of the black hole is a huge deal, as the amount of time and effort that scientists around the world put in to capture that image is crazy. It’s actually really cool to read about.”