Scientists have lifted the veil on the first images ever captured of a black hole’s event horizon.
In a highly-anticipated string of press conferences held simultaneously around the world on Wednesday, the team behind the Event Horizon Telescope revealed the findings from their first run of observations.
Using a ‘virtual telescope’ built from eight radio observatories positioned at different points on the globe, the international team has spent the last few years probing Sagittarius A*, the supermassive black hole at the heart of the Milky Way, and another target called M87 in the Virgo cluster of galaxies.
While black holes are invisible by nature, the ultra-hot material swirling in their midst forms a ring of light around the perimeter that reveals the mouth of the object itself based on its silhouette. This boundary is known as the event horizon.
'We have seen what we thought was unseeable,' said EHT Director Shepherd Doeleman as he introduced the glowing orange ring that is our first direct look at a black hole.
The breakthrough adds major support for Einstein’s theory of General Relativity and helps to confirm our understanding of gravity. It could also help to answer longstanding questions on black hole jets, in which the objects occasionally spew out material, and the activity of pulsars.
'We have seen what we thought was unseeable,' said EHT Director Shepherd Doeleman as he introduced the glowing orange ring that is our first direct look at a black hole
While the images might seem unremarkable to some, these findings 'will transform and enhance our understanding of black holes,' said National Science Foundation Director France Cordova as she kicked off the live event.
The effort is essentially working to capture a silhouette of a black hole, also commonly referred to as the black hole’s shadow. This would be ‘its dark shape on a bright background of light coming from the surrounding matter, deformed by a strong spacetime curvature,’ the ETH team explains