Sat. Jan 16th, 2021

First captured image of black hole is astronomical breakthrough

supermassive black hole first photo milkway galaxyThe first real photo of a black hole was released today by the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) collaboration.

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The EHT is an interconnected network of eight telescopes stationed around the world. And it just captured the supermassive black hole at the centre of our Milkyway galaxy from 55 million light years away.

EHT Director, Shep Doeleman described the breakthrough in science as a “one-way door out of our universe,” and that scientists are now able to “see what we thought was unseeable.” He added:

“This is a landmark in astronomy, an unprecedented scientific feat accomplished by a team of more than 200 researchers. [The] result would have presumed to be impossible just a generation ago”.

Prof Heino Falcke, of Radboud University in the Netherlands, confirmed that the black hole has the mass 6.5 billion times that of our Sun. He explained:

“It is one of the heaviest black holes that we think exists. It is an absolute monster, the heavyweight champion of black holes in the Universe. What we see is larger than the size of our entire Solar System.”

What is a supermassive black hole?

Supermassive black holes (SMBH) are situated at the centres of most galaxies. Their extreme gravity affects space and time.

An SMBH’s event horizon, also known as a point of no return, is the boundary at which no material can escape the black hole’s gravitational pull, not even light.

Objects travelling faster than the speed of light would theoretically be able to escape, but that contradicts Einstein’s general theory of relativity.

Thanks to the data collected by the EHT, scientists will now be able to better understand how a black hole works. They’ll need to determine if Einstein’s theory of relativey holds up against the latest data.

Scientists are keen to look out for ways in which the black hole departs from what’s expected in physics. One question that remains unanswered, is what happens when an object falls into a black hole.

Black hole myths

There are many misconceptions around black holes. For decades, it was believed that our sun will turn into a black hole one day, or that black holes will suck up everything in the universe.

In fact, our Sun is too small to turn into a black hole. When it reaches the end of its lifetime, it will become a red giant before turning into a whilte dwarf star.

Earth won’t be around anymore when that happens because our oceans would have boiled away millions of years prior. But rest assured, that won’t happen for another six billion years or so.

Watch: How to understand the image of a black hole

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