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First Image of Black Hole Marks ‘A Breakthrough for Humanity’

Scientists on Wednesday revealed the first image ever made of a black hole, depicting a fiery orange and black ring of gravity-twisted light swirling around the edges of the abyss.

Assembling data gathered by eight radio telescopes around the world, astronomers captured a picture of the hot, shadowy edges of a supermassive black hole, the light-sucking monsters of the universe theorised by Albert Einstein more than a century ago and confirmed by observations for decades. It is along those edges that light bends around itself in a cosmic funhouse effect. “We have seen what we thought was unseeable. We have seen and taken a picture of a black hole. Here it is,” said Sheperd Doeleman of Harvard.

Jessica Dempsey, a co-discoverer and deputy director of the East Asian Observatory in Hawaii, said it reminded her of the powerful flaming Eye of Sauron from the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. Data needed to construct the picture was gathered in April 2017 by the Event Horizon Telescope, a joined-up network of eight radio telescopes spread across the globe. 

Three years ago, scientists using an extraordinarily sensitive observing system heard the sound of two much smaller black holes merging to create a gravitational wave. The new image, published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters and announced around the world in several news conferences, adds light to that sound. While much around a black hole falls into a death spiral and is never to be seen again, the new image captures “lucky gas and dust” circling at just far enough to be safe and seen millions of years later on Earth, Dempsey said.

Taken over four days when astronomers had “to have the perfect weather all across the world and literally all the stars had to align”, the image helps confirm Einstein’s general relativity theory, Dempsey said. Einstein a century ago even predicted the symmetrical shape that scientists just found, she said. “It's circular, but on one side the light is brighter,” Dempsey said. That's because that light is approaching Earth. The project cost $50 million to $60 million, with $26 million of that coming from the National Science Foundation.

Congratulating EU-funded researchers, who played a key role in the historic project, European Commissioner Carlos Moedas, responsible for research, science and innovation, said: “Fiction often inspires science, and black holes have long fuelled our dreams and curiosity. Today, thanks to the contribution of European scientists, the existence of black holes is no longer just a theoretical concept. This amazing discovery proves again how working together with partners around the world can lead to achieving the unthinkable and moving the horizons of our knowledge.”

President of the European Research Council (ERC), professor Jean-Pierre Bourguignon, said, “I congratulate scientists across the globe who made this inspiring discovery and pushed the frontiers of our knowledge. I’m especially glad to see that scientists funded by the European Research Council contributed decisively to this breakthrough.”

What is a black hole?

Black holes are extremely compressed cosmic objects, containing incredible amounts of mass within a tiny region. Their presence affects their surroundings in extreme ways, by warping spacetime and super-heating any material falling into it. 

The captured image reveals the black hole at the centre of Messier 87, a massive galaxy in the constellation of Virgo. This black hole is located 55 million light-years from the earth and has a mass 6.5-billion times larger than our sun.

To allow the direct observation of a black hole’s immediate environment, Event Horizon Telescope has sought to upgrade and connect a worldwide network of eight telescopes across the globe. These are located at challenging high-altitude sites, including in the Spanish Sierra Nevada, volcanoes in Hawaii and Mexico, mountains in Arizona, the Chilean Atacama Desert, and Antarctica. More than 200 researchers from Europe, America and East Asia are participating in this major international operation.

Meet Katie Bouman, Scientist behind the first image

Katie Bouman.
Astronomers on Wednesday unveiled the first photo of a black hole, one of the star-devouring monsters scattered throughout the Universe and obscured by impenetrable shields of gravity. But there is something more to celebrate. It's a historic day for female scientists across the globe as the first picture of a black hole was generated by a young lady named Katie Bouman 29-year-old Computer Scientist.

According to reports, she helped develop a computer program which helped in creating the image of the black hole. Bouman also headed a testing team that verified the image for the world to see.

Bouman started trending after a picture of her standing next to a table stacked with hard drives was posted on Twitter and Facebook.
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