Black hole illustrations are widely available on the internet, but not a single one of those has been a genuine photograph of the object itself; instead, they’re merely artist’s impressions that have been carefully designed to the standards that scientists have long thought that a black hole would look like.
Almost two years ago, a team of clever astronomers told the world that we’d eventually get to witness the very first actual photograph of a black hole, and after much anticipation, that very same team has followed through with this promise. The image below is of a real black hole called M87* from the M87 galaxy some 50 million light-years away:
Image Credit: EHT Collaboration/NSF/YouTube
If it looks somewhat unimpressive at first glance, that’s because all those artist’s impressions have spoiled you. Artist’s impressions are specifically designed to look beautiful, as they are often used as headings in print to captivate your interest. On the other hand, this here is the real deal, and it could care less about looking pretty because it’s a black freaking hole.
The team of astronomers captured the image at an astonishingly high resolution with the help of some of the world’s largest radio telescopes. The team linked each of those telescopes together to form an array that is now collectively known as the ‘Event Horizon Telescope,’ and it has taken several months for even the most powerful computer processors to finally render this image for the public’s eye.
You can watch the astronomers’ full presentation below:
The astronomers describe the black hole in the image as a “shadow” that is “surrounded by a ring of light,” and it looks surprisingly like what scientific computer models have spat out at us for years. Given the circumstances, the image confirms the existence of the black hole’s event horizon, and goes on to further confirm theories provided by famous physicist Albert Einstein.
But if that wasn’t captivating enough, the astronomers also say that the image helps to solve a discrepancy in what we understand about black hole size and mass measurements. In this particular circumstance, the black hole we that we’re looking at is approximately the same size as our solar system, and this small detail played a part in making it visible from Earth.
Albeit awesome, this image doesn’t answer all our questions about black holes; in fact, quite the contrary is true. Black holes remain incredibly ominous and mysterious by nature. These apparent sinkholes in the fabric of space-time continue to boggle even the best minds in astrophysics, and for that reason, astronomers will continue observing them in an effort to answer more of those questions.
Did this black hole photograph turn out how you expected it to? Let us know in the comments.