Point of no return

See the first ever photo of a black hole as it devours all around it
By Alex James Taylor | Current affairs | 10 April 2019

Photograph: EHT Collaboration

Top image: EHT Collaboration

Earlier this week a group of scientists from the international Event Horizon Telescope announced that they’d captured the first ever photo of a supermassive black hole. Today, that image has been revealed, showing a black hole at the centre of M87, a galaxy 54 million light years away.

Taken over five days of observations in April 2017 using eight telescopes around the world that together act like a telescope the size of Earth, the image shows a ring of swirling matter heating up as it’s pulled towards the black hole’s event horizon – the point of no return that devours planets, stars, asteroids and even light. This black hole is about 6.5 billion times the mass of the Sun which, FYI, is larger than the orbit of Neptune, which takes 200 years to make one orbit around the sun. So pretty bloody big.

“We have been studying black holes for so long that sometimes it’s easy to forget that none of us has seen one,” said France Córdova, director of the US National Science Foundation during a press conference announcing the team’s achievement (via The Guardian). “This will leave an imprint on people’s memories.”

“Black holes are the most mysterious objects in the universe,” added Sheperd Doeleman, EHT director and Harvard University senior research fellow. “We have seen what we thought was unseeable. We have taken a picture of a black hole.”

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