Scientists capture first-ever image of a black hole

photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Samuel Oladejo, Editor-in-Chief

Scientists captured the first-ever picture of a black hole yesterday. The image, now all over the internet, displays a dark shadow surrounded by an orange ring of light.

“We have seen what we thought was unseeable,” Sheperd Doeleman, director of the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) Collaboration, said. “We have seen and taken a picture of a black hole.”

The supermassive black hole is located at the center of the Messier 87 (M87) galaxy 55 million light-years from Earth. It has a mass 6.5 billion times that of the sun.

“We’ve been studying black holes so long, sometimes it’s easy to forget that none of us have actually seen one,” France Córdova, director of the National Science Foundation, said.

Black holes are difficult to photograph because their gravity is so great that no light can escape them. However, some supermassive black holes accrue bright disks of gas and other materials. The EHT image shows the shadow of the black hole over this bright ring.

“I was super excited to see that it had actually worked,” science teacher Sharon Carswell said. “The image confirmed a lot of what we already thought we knew about black holes through theoretical physics, so that was very affirming to the scientific community.”

The image was stitched together from eight worldwide ground-based radio telescopes using an algorithm created by MIT graduate Katie Bouman three years ago. Bouman, then 26, had led the development of the algorithm that led to yesterday’s breakthrough.

“A black hole is very, very far away and very compact,” Bouman said when the algorithm was first created. “[Taking a picture of the black hole in the center of the Milky Way galaxy is] equivalent to taking an image of a grapefruit on the moon, but with a radio telescope.”

The algorithm required the use of several telescopes around the world working in synchronization to approximate the diameter of a much larger telescope.

“To image something this small means that we would need a telescope with a 10,000-kilometer diameter, which is not practical, because the diameter of the Earth is not even 13,000 kilometers,” Bouman said.

Bouman, now 29, worked with over 200 researches to reach this point.

“I’m glad that we have a young example to lead everybody so that there’s no excuse that you’re not able to do something in the future,” senior Eric Aguilar said.

Carswell believes that this is a breakthrough for young people and all women in science.

“I think that it’s very exciting especially for women in science and younger people in science,” Carswell said. “I’m hoping that it will create a lot more energy and excitement about science and what’s possible.”