Into the abyss

The first ever photo of a supermassive black hole is about to be released
Current affairs | 8 April 2019
Text Finn Blythe

Top image via NASA

As the name suggests, supermassive black holes are quite large. So large in fact, they are said to contain a mass many billions of times greater than our sun. They form as a result of gravitational collapse at the end of a star’s lifecycle (a process we won’t even try to pretend we know anything about), leaving behind a region of space from which nothing can escape, not even light. The result is that they are very awkward to photograph, meaning news of a group of scientists from the international Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) project who announced they will be unveiling the world’s first photograph of such a phenomenon is very exciting indeed.

According to research undertaken by the Hubble Telescope, all galaxies of a certain size contain a supermassive black hole at their centre. Fortunately, the one residing in ours is around 26 thousand light-years away, meaning it’s unlikely to ever give us any trouble. Sagitarius A*, as it’s classified, will be one of two supermassive black holes being photographed, with the EHT having begun their observations around two years ago. The other is M87, taken from our next-door Virgo A galaxy (as opposed to the Milky Way, from which Saitarius A*’s will be photographed), some 54 million light-years away from Earth.

Given the uncertainty that still surrounds black holes in general, let alone their supermassive versions, these photographs will provide unprecedented insight into the nature of our universe. Set to be released on 10th April, this is a moment made possible by the work of Einstein and Hawking (among many others) for whom the question of black holes was a life-long pursuit.

While we wait for the images to be released, check out this video below that captures a black hole ripping apart a star without even breaking a sweat. Devastating.

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