History has been made! For the first time ever, a black hole has been photographed by astronomers. The event measures 40 billion km across — that’s three million times the size of Earth.
The black hole, which scientists describe as “monster,” is 500 million trillion km away. The Event Horizon Telescope (EHT), a network of eight linked telescopes across the world, collaborated to capture the phenomena. Details have been published today in Astrophysical Journal Letters.
According to the BBC, Professor Heino Falcke of Radboud University in the Netherland proposed the experiment. He said the black hole was found in a galaxy called M87.
“What we see is larger than the size of our entire Solar System,” he told BBC News. “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.”
Professor Falcke conceived the idea for the project when he was a PhD student in 1993. No one thought it was possible back then, but he kept faith. The professor was the first to realize that a certain type of radio emission could be generated close to and all around the black hole. This energy would be powerful enough to be detected by telescopes on Earth. He also knew that black holes typically appear 2.5 times larger than they actually are.
For 20 years, Professor Falcke argued his case. Finally, he persuaded the European Research Council to fund the project. Afterward, agencies in East Asia and the National Science Foundation added an additional £40m in funding.
Today, Professor Falcke considers the mission “accomplished.” He said, ”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?”
The Event Horizon Telescope
For the biggest experiment of its kind, Sheperd Doeleman of the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics agreed to set up a network of eight linked telescopes. Together, they form the Event Horizon Telescope. Each telescope is located in an exotic state, such as the volcanoes in Hawaii and Mexico, the mountains in Arizona and the Spanish Sierra Nevada, and in the Atacama Desert of Chile. There is even a telescope in Antarctica!
For over a period of 10 days, a team of 200 scientists pointed the networked telescopes toward M87. The information they gathered was too big to send over the internet. So, the scientists stored data on hundreds of hard drives that were flown to a central processing center in Boston, US, and Bonn, Germany. Professor Doeleman described the process of assembling the information as “an extraordinary scientific feat.”
“We have achieved something presumed to be impossible just a generation ago,” he said. “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.”
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Image credit: Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration