First ever image of black hole M87 released by Event Horizon Telescope mission scientists

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The first ever direct photograph of black hole M87. Image: EHT
Image:

The first ever direct photograph of black hole M87. Image: EHT

The image was captured using the virtual Event Horizon Telescope

Scientists have finally released the long-awaited, first ever close-up photograph of a major black hole located in a distant galaxy named Messier 87 (or M87). The image was captured using the virtual Event Horizon Telescope (EHT), a collaboration among astronomers from across the world.

In a press conference held today in Brussels, an international team of scientists announced the 'ground-breaking result' from the EHT project.

We are giving humanity its first view of a black hole - a one-way door out of our universe

Five other press conferences were also held simultaneously in Washington, Tokyo, Taipei, Shanghai and Santiago.

"We are giving humanity its first view of a black hole - a one-way door out of our Universe," said EHT project director, Sheperd  Doeleman, of the Center for Astrophysics at the Harvard & Smithsonian.

Dr Ziri Younsi from the University College London (UCL) Mullard Space Science Laboratory, part of the EHT collaboration, added: "We have accomplished something many thought impossible by imaging the shadow of a black hole.

We have accomplished something many thought impossible by imaging the shadow of a black hole

"It provides the strongest evidence to date that such evasive and enigmatic entities do, indeed, exist. It's the closest we can get to imaging a black hole, which is an object with such a strong gravitational field that no light or matter can escape."

He continued: "This observation lays the foundation for future studies of black holes and could play a crucial role in our understanding of the behaviour of light and matter in the most extreme environments in our Universe."

It's the closest we can get to imaging a black hole, which is an object with such a strong gravitational field that no light or matter can escape

The first black hole image captured by scientists shows an intensely bright ring of fire surrounding a central dark region. Superheated gas falling into the hole creates a bright halo which is also visible in the image.

The image of M87 black hole appears very much similar to other black hole images obtained from theoretical calculations. But, scientists believe this image will enable them to learn more about these mysterious objects.

According to scientists, EHT telescope array collected more than 5,000 trillion bytes of data over a period of two weeks. The data was processed through supercomputers to enable scientists retrieve the final image of the black hole.

Scientists say this image is first direct visual evidence that confirms the existence of black holes. It also acts as a confirmation of Albert Einstein's theory of general relativity.

EHT project was announced in 2012 with the aim of directly observing the environment of a black hole using a global network of telescopes. The massive virtual EHT was built using eight radio observatories located at different parts of the world; namely, Arizona, Hawaii, Chile, Spain, and the South Pole.

Scientists used a technique called 'very long baseline interferometry' to combine the data of eight radio telescopes and to eventually create a virtual telescope that was, effectively, as big as Earth itself.

Press conferences have been held around the world to mark the release

EHT started collecting data from April 2017.

To study the surrounding of black holes, the EHT team focused on two potential candidates: Sagittarius A* and M87.

Sagittarius A* is a supermassive black hole located in the heart of the Milky Way, about 26,000 light years away from Earth. Sagittarius A* has a mass four million times greater than the Sun, according to scientists, who calculated its mass by tracking the orbits of stars around this black hole.

Another target, Messier 87 (or M87), lies in the Virgo cluster of galaxies. It is located about 54 million light-years away from Earth, and has a mass of about 3.5 billion times greater than the Sun. M87 is known for emitting a fast jet of charged particles, stretching for about 5,000 light years.

This observation... could play a crucial role in our understanding of the behaviour of light and matter in the most extreme environments in our Universe

Black holes are dense celestial objects with gravitational fields so powerful that even light can't escape their gravitational pull, thereby making them exceptionally difficult to observe. Scientists believe that black holes form when stars collapse at the end of their lifecycle. Then, they become extremely dense objects, whereby matter is crushed into an infinitely small space.

Astrophysicists also believe that supermassive black holes are the engines that generate the exceptional energies of quasars and other explosive galactic nuclei.

"This observation lays the foundation for future studies of black holes and could play a crucial role in our understanding of the behaviour of light and matter in the most extreme environments in our Universe," added Younsi.

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