Astronomers have successfully taken the very first image of a black hole located in a distant galaxy. The scientists have described the black hole measuring 40 billion across as ‘a monster’. It is about 500 million trillion away and was captured in an image thanks to a network of eight telescopes across the world known as Event Horizon Telescope. The details have already been published in Astrophysical Journal Letters.
Professor Heino Falcke, Radboud University in the Netherlands, the person who proposed this experiment, said, ‘What we see is larger than the size of our entire Solar System. It has a mass 6.5 billion times that of the Sun. And it is one of the heaviest black holes that we think exists. It is an absolute monster, the heavyweight champion of black holes in the Universe.’
The image shows a very bright ring of fire that is surrounding a perfectly circular dark hole. The bright halo, if you will, is created because of the superheated gas making its way into the hole. The light is brighter than all of the billion other stars in the galaxy combined – the reason why it is visible from Earth. The edge of the dark circle at the center is the point where the gas makes its entry into the black hole. Black holes have such an extreme gravitational pull that even the light cannot escape.
Dr Ziri Younsi of University College London, part of the EHT collaboration, said, ‘Although they are relatively simple objects, black holes raise some of the most complex questions about the nature of space and time, and ultimately of our existence. It is remarkable that the image we observe is so similar to that which we obtain from our theoretical calculations. So far, it looks like Einstein is correct once again.’
Professor Falcke had the idea for this project when he was a PhD student back in 1993. He realized that a particular kind of radio emission would be created close to and all around the black hole, strong enough to be picked up by telescopes located on Earth. Combined with the knowledge from a scientific paper from 1973 – suggesting that owing to their extreme gravity, the black holes appear 2.5 times larger than they actually are – he was certain that an image could be obtained.
He was able to secure funding for his case after arguing for about twenty years. He says, ‘It has been a long journey, but this is what I wanted to see with my own eyes. I wanted to know is this real!’ Katie Bouman, a PhD student at MIT, created the algorithm that was able to put the data from the EHT together. Without her work, this project would not have been a success. Professor Doeleman has stated that the achievement is an ‘an extraordinary scientific feat’. He further said, ‘We have achieved something presumed to be impossible just a generation ago. Breakthroughs in technology, connections between the world’s best radio observatories, and innovative algorithms all came together to open an entirely new window on black holes.’