Thursday, 25 April, 2019

Scientists Release First-Ever Image of Black Hole

A NASA artist's concept illustration shows a supermassive black hole with millions to billions times the mass of our sun See the first real pictures of a black hole revealed live
Charles Bowen | 11 April, 2019, 22:10

It's well known that a black hole's gravity is so overpowering that even light can not escape its center.

"If immersed in a bright region, like a disc of glowing gas, we expect a black hole to create a dark region similar to a shadow - something predicted by Einstein's general relativity that we've never seen before", said Heino Falcke of Radboud University in the Netherlands, the chairman of the Event Horizon Telescope Science Council. No - it's a black hole!

"The shadow of the black hole is almost circular, which is consistent with our simulations". The event horizon stretches about the breadth of our solar system.

"So far, what we know about a black hole and its structure is theoretical, based on gravitational waves".

Though black holes are compact objects, they are exceptionally massive - the mass of M87's black hole is about 6.5 billion times that of our sun, the National Science Foundation (NSF) said in a statement. Still, it's around 25 billion miles across.

Others thought the black hole looked extremely similar to the image used for "Superunknown", a 1994 album by Soundgarden which just happens to include a song called "Black Hole Sun".

The image - unveiled at 9:07pm - showed a black center surrounded by a crescent of light, and the audience in Taipei expressed their amazement with a big round of applause. Indeed, the likelihood was that a single telescope capable of seeing M87 in action was decades away from fruition.

Astrophysicist Avery Broderick, a member of the Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration, said he was "a little stunned" that the image matched simulations so closely.

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"I was part of the observing team at the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope (JCMT) on Mauna Kea, Hawaii, on April 2017 when these observations were carried out". None of the instruments are physically connected.

"I was invited to join the Greenland telescope and EHT group because of my background and previous experience in radio astronomy". Rather than try to send that information digitally, the EHT team loaded the drives onto planes and flew them to the supercomputer locations. That equipment includes massive data storage capacity and atomic clocks that lose only one second of time every 10 million years.

The result is what the EHT project describes as "a virtual Earth-sized telescope". This observation is a test of "strong gravity", where the differences are large and observable.

When scientists initially put all that data into the first picture, what they saw looked so much like what they expected they didn't believe it at first.

These were then compared to the approximately 5,000 terabytes of data collected by the telescope array that were aggregated using high speed fiber optic cables and physically shipping hard drives (when there was too much data to send over the internet).

"It took them two years to analyze the data", added the former astronaut, who logged more than 570 hours in space.

While this first image of a black hole may be a huge milestone, it's only the beginning of the work the EHT team hopes to complete.

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