Astronomers working on the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) on Wednesday revealed the first visual evidence of a black hole and its “shadow”.
This image of the black hole lies at the centre of the Messier 87 galaxy, in the Virgo galaxy cluster.
The black hole is located 55 million light-years from Earth and is determined to have a mass that is 6.5 billion times that of the Sun and has an uncertainty of 0.7 billion solar masses.
Despite black holes being invisible due to their extreme density and gravitational field, researchers have managed to obtain images near the point where matter and energy can no longer escape, which is referred to as event horizon.
EHT’s lead astronomer, Shepherd Doeleman said that humanity is being given its first view of a black hole, which is a one-way door out of our universe.
“This is a landmark in astronomy, an unprecedented scientific feat accomplished by a team of more than 200 researchers.”
Doeleman explained that these results would have been impossible “just a generation ago.”
“Breakthroughs in technology and the completion of new radio telescopes over the past decade have allowed researchers to now see the unseeable”.
So what is the black hole?
Black holes are often referred to as monsters.
It is a region of space-time that has such strong gravitational effects that nothing can escape from inside it.
What this means is that there is a point beyond the region of a black hole that not even light can escape the black hole’s gravity.
So for example, if an object or entity – be it a star, a planet or even a spacecraft were to get too close to a black hole it would stretch and compress. This theoretical process is known as spaghettification.
It would then never be seen again.
A black hole has a mass that’s 7 billion times our Sun’s.
It was Einstein’s theory of general relativity that predicted the formation of black holes.
And why is this image a big deal?
Simply put, it allows us to have a greater understanding now of our universe and the way in which it works.
The Harvard Gazzette reports that ever since Einstien’s theory of general relativity first hinted black holes over a century ago, black holes have continued to captivate public imagination.
This, according to Doeleman, this is because black holes have remained a mystery for so long.
“Einstein himself wasn’t really sure that black holes existed,” he said. “The fact is we’re drawn to things that we don’t understand because we yearn to know more. They’re terrifying, but we can’t look away.”
He explains that what has for so long been a theory about black holes, is now something that is there and is visible.
“This is the only place in the universe where the cosmos ties a knot you can’t untie. Every other place in the universe you can, in theory, come back from, but not there.”
Doeleman said this landmark discovery will open gateways into more avenues for research and studies to take place.
“We are now entering the era of precision, horizon-scale observations of black holes. We’ve never had that before, so we’re now able to ask a bunch of questions we couldn’t even conceive of before. We can start teasing apart physical processes at the black hole boundary, so [the significance] is in what we saw, but also in the promise this holds for the future.”