Astronomers have captured the first ever direct image of a black hole. To achieve this phenomenal feat, the team used the Event Horizon Telescope, which is a network of eight major radio observatories located at the mountaintops of Hawaii, Spain’s Sierra Nevada, the Chilean desert, and the Antarctic ice sheet that worked together as an Earth-sized virtual telescope. The project involved more than 200 astronomers, including scientists from MIT’s Haystack Observatory.
According to the paper published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters, the supermassive black hole lies at the center of the galaxy M87 which is 55 million light-years from the Earth, and it’s around 6.5 billion times the mass of the Sun.
Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity described black holes as infinitely dense, compact regions in space, where gravity is so immense that no form of energy can escape its influence. A black hole, by definition, is invisible but if it’s surrounded by hot-ionized gas such as plasma, it should create a “shadow,” or an outline of the black hole and its boundary which we call event horizon.
Beautifully, in all four images of the supermassive black hole revealed, researchers could make visual confirmation of effects as predicted in the theory of relativity including how gravitational field causes light to bend around it, making a bright ring around its silhouette and how it causes surrounding material to orbit close to speed of light.
“These remarkable new images of the M87 black hole prove that Einstein was right yet again,” says Maria Zuber, MIT’s vice president for research in a news release. “The discovery was enabled by advances in digital systems at which Haystack engineers have long excelled.”
Source: MIT News