This is the first ever photograph of a black hole
|Credit: Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration|
Editor's note: It appears the National Science Foundation has taken down the link to the full-resolution image and replaced it with a JPG image for the time being, likely due to the ridiculous bandwidth required to load a 183.3MB image. We will leave the original link in its place for the time being until we can find an officially mirrored image to put in its place, but note it will forward you to the much smaller JPG version of the image.
The picture above, which you can find a high-resolution version of on the National Science Foundation's (NSF) website (183.3MB TIF), shows a black hole at the center of the galaxy Messier 87 (M87). The black hole, located 55 million light years from Earth, is 6 billion times more massive than our Sun and 1,500 times more massive than Sagittarius A* (Sgr A*), the black hole at the center of our own galaxy, the Milky Way.
The black disk at the center of the image is a shadow caused by the event horizon. Surrounding it is an orange glow made up of hot gas. In the words of the NSF, who helped to fund the EHT Project, the image is 'not simulation or conjecture, but chaotic photons surrounding an unimaginable void.'
The data used to create the image was captured in a week's time back in April 2017 with the help of eight different radio telescopes across five continents, but it's taken until now to gather, process and review that data. As noted by The Verge, Davide Castelvecchi of Nature News wrote back in 2017 that 'A typical night will yield about as much data as a year’s worth of experiments at the Large Hadron Collider outside Geneva, Switzerland.'
Below is a video explainer of the EHT project and its mission.
Once all of the data was captured from the eight telescopes across the globe, the data had to be physically sent to centralized locations where it was parsed through by a supercomputer for months on end to create the image we've been shown today.
In addition to processing the data, the final image and accompanying information was stringently peer-reviewed ahead of today's release, 'as a part of the standard process of peer-review required for any scientific publication.'
Update (April 10, 2019): This article has been updated to clarify that the black center of the image is not the event horizon itself, but a shadow caused by the activity at the event horizon.
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