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Old Yesterday, 07:56 AM
 
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This is what a black hole looks like.

A world-spanning network of telescopes called the Event Horizon Telescope zoomed in on the supermassive monster in the galaxy M87 to create this first-ever picture of a black hole.

“We have seen what we thought was unseeable. We have seen and taken a picture of a black hole,” Sheperd Doeleman, EHT Director and astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass., said April 10 in Washington, D.C., at one of seven concurrent news conferences. The results were also published in six papers in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

“We’ve been studying black holes so long, sometimes it’s easy to forget that none of us have actually seen one,” France Cordova, director of the National Science Foundation, said in the Washington, D.C., news conference. Seeing one “is a Herculean task,” she said.

That's because black holes are notoriously hard to see. Their gravity is so extreme that nothing, not even light, can escape across the boundary at a black hole's edge, known as the event horizon. But some black holes, especially supermassive ones dwelling in galaxies’ centers, stand out by voraciously accreting bright disks of gas and other material. The EHT image reveals the shadow of M87’s black hole on its accretion disk. Appearing as a fuzzy, asymmetrical ring, it unveils for the first time a dark abyss of one of the universe’s most mysterious objects.

“That’s fantastic,” says physicist Clifford Will of the University of Florida in Gainesville who is not on the EHT team. “Being able to actually see this shadow and to detect it is a tremendous first step.”

The image aligns with expectations of what a black hole should look like based on Einstein’s general theory of relativity, which predicts how spacetime is warped by the extreme mass of a black hole. The picture is “one more strong piece of evidence supporting the existence of black holes. And that, of course, helps verify general relativity,” Will says.

Earlier studies have tested general relativity by looking at the motions of stars (SN: 8/18/18, p. 12) or gas clouds(SN: 11/24/18, p. 16) near a black hole, but never at its edge. “It’s as good as it gets,” Will says. Tiptoe any closer and you’d be inside the black hole — unable to report back on the results of any experiments.

“Black hole environments are a likely place where general relativity would break down,” says EHT team member Feryal Özel, an astrophysicist at the University of Arizona in Tucson. So testing general relativity in such extreme conditions could reveal deviations from Einstein’s predictions.

Just because this first image upholds general relativity "doesn’t mean general relativity is completely fine,” she says. Many physicists think that general relativity won’t be the last word on gravity because it’s incompatible with another essential physics theory, quantum mechanics, which describes physics on very small scales.

The image also provides a new measurement of the black hole’s size and heft. “Our mass determination by just directly looking at the shadow has helped resolve a longstanding controversy,” Sera Markoff, a theoretical astrophysicist at the University of Amsterdam, said in the Washington, D.C., news conference. Estimates made using different techniques have ranged between 3.5 billion and 7.22 billion times the mass of the sun. But new the EHT measurements show that its mass is about 6.5 billion solar masses.

The team has also determined the behemoth’s size — its diameter stretches 38 billion kilometers — and that the black hole spins clockwise. “M87 is a monster even by supermassive black hole standards,” Sera said.

EHT trained its sights on both M87’s black hole and Sagittarius A*, the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way. But, it turns out, it was easier to image M87’s monster. That black hole is more than 50 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Virgo, about 2,000 times as far as Sgr A*. But it’s also about 1,000 times as massive as the Milky Way’s giant, which weighs the equivalent of roughly 4 million suns. That extra heft nearly balances out M87’s distance. “The size in the sky is pretty darn similar,” says EHT team member Feryal Özel.

Due to its gravitational oomph, gases swirling around M87’s black hole move and vary in brightness more slowly than they do around the Milky Way’s. “During a single observation, Sgr A* doesn’t sit still, whereas M87 does,” says Özel, an astrophysicist at the University of Arizona in Tucson. “Just based on this ‘Does the black hole sit still and pose for me?’ point of view, we knew M87 would cooperate more.”

After more data analysis, the team hopes to solve some long-standing mysteries about black holes, such as how M87’s behemoth spews a bright jet of charged particles thousands of light-years into space.

This first image is like the “shot heard round the world” that kicked off the American Revolutionary War, says Harvard University astrophysicist Avi Loeb who isn’t on the EHT team. “It’s very significant; it gives a glimpse of what the future might hold, but it doesn’t give us all the information that we want.”

More data could also bring a much-anticipated glimpse of Sgr A*. “The Milky Way is a very different galaxy from M87,” Loeb says. Studying such different environments could reveal more details of how black holes behave.

Unfortunately, the next look at the M87 and Milky Way behemoths will have to wait.

Scientists got a lucky stretch of good weather at all eight sites that made up the Event Horizon Telescope in 2017. Then bad weather in 2018 and technical difficulties, which cancelled the 2019 observing run, stymied the team.

The good news is that by 2020, there will be at least 10 observatories to work with. The Greenland Telescopejoined the consortium in 2018, and the Kitt Peak National Observatory outside Tucson, Ariz., will join EHT in 2020. That should provide the extra eyes needed to bring black holes into even greater focus.
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First real image of a black hole captured-blackhole.jpg  
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Old Yesterday, 08:12 AM
 
Location: Nantahala National Forest, NC
25,318 posts, read 5,142,897 times
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It looks like a..... black hole!

Seriously, thanks for the article....not that I understand it all. Fascinating...
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Old Yesterday, 08:36 AM
 
Location: Omaha, Nebraska
6,918 posts, read 3,919,211 times
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This is very, very cool. Thanks for posting it!
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Old Yesterday, 09:05 AM
 
Location: Los Angeles
11,871 posts, read 9,884,911 times
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Amazing that something like this started out on a chalkboard somewhere on a long time ago and now we have visual evidence.
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Old Yesterday, 09:21 AM
 
9,224 posts, read 2,310,520 times
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Of course, the next question is...what is on the other side? Another dimension, backward/ forward in time, etc?
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Old Yesterday, 09:24 AM
 
342 posts, read 344,516 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rstevens62 View Post
Of course, the next question is...what is on the other side? Another dimension, backward/ forward in time, etc?
Probably nothing. All material being gobbled up by the black hole just becomes part of the black home making it bigger.
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Old Yesterday, 10:31 AM
 
1,144 posts, read 537,702 times
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I love this stuff.....fascinating.
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Old Yesterday, 11:21 AM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rstevens62 View Post
Of course, the next question is...what is on the other side? Another dimension, backward/ forward in time, etc?
Since we can never see beyond the event horizon there is no way to answer that question with certainty.
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Old Yesterday, 12:09 PM
 
Location: La Mesa Aka The Table
7,340 posts, read 7,851,515 times
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Questions:
When will get here and how time do i Have?
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Old Yesterday, 12:48 PM
DKM
 
Location: Thousand Oaks, CA
2,570 posts, read 886,320 times
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It's a little out of focus
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