We Now Have The First Direct Image Of A Black Hole & A Woman Is Behind This Incredible Achievement

We Now Have The First Direct Image Of A Black Hole & A Woman Is Behind This Incredible Achievement

The image was taken as part of a collaboration called Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) using 8 powerful radio telescopes located in various parts of the earth and involving 200 scientists. The image is historic and gives us new insights into the mysterious workings of these space objects

At first glance, people may wonder why astrophysicist and scientists all over the world are going crazy over a blurry image of what looks like a circular and doughnut shape light. It does appear quite insignificant. A feeling may have also arisen in some that they could have taken a much better picture than the one that was being so proudly shown all over the world by scientists on Wednesday. However, this blurry picture is the first image of a black hole to be ever taken and it's historic, according to The Guardian. It has been painstakingly taken by a network of eight radio telescopes as part of a project called Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) spanning the range of Antarctica, Chile, and Spain. It also involved the crucial work of as many as 200 scientists. The data from these telescopes was so much that they occupied half a ton of hard drives and had to be physically shipped. The image taken is that of a supermassive black hole in the Messier 87 or M87 galaxy that is 55 million light years away from earth. This black hole was however not the first target of the project when it launched back in 2017. The first and primary target was a black hole called Sagittarius A* located closer to earth in the Milky Way galaxy with a mass of about 4 million suns.


The success of the project hinged on clear skies on several continents simultaneously and coordination between the eight far-flung teams. Observations were coordinated using atomic clocks, called hydrogen masers, accurate to within one second every 100 million years. And, on one night in April 2017, everything came together. It was a  computer scientist from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Dr. Katie Bouman, who developed an algorithm to stitch together data collected across the EHT network. Sure, Einstein may have been right for the existence of black holes, but it is because of Dr. Bouman's computer program that made this breakthrough possible. She deserves special mention. She is 29 years old and is currently in CalTech. 


According to MIT's Twitter handle, Dr. Bouman has begun constructing the life-changing algorithm three years ago. It is to be noted that she was still a graduate student at MIT at that time. Most graduate students don't even make it to classes on time and Dr. Bouman was already on the road to handing the world of astrophysics a truly historic moment. 

While still at MIT, she led the project. She was not alone, of course. She had help from a dedicated team from the MIT Haystack Observatory, the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.


The golden ring of light of the black hole represents a halo of gas and dust and has given scientists a lot of new information and insights into these mysteries of space. In fact, this one picture has heralded a revolution in the understanding of these enigmatic objects. While the image provides plenty of information on the outside of a black hole, it still frustrating reveals very little on what goes on inside a black hole, said scientists. 




For years, scientists have been trying to study black holes, something that has fascinated humans for ages. A cosmic trapdoor from which neither light nor matter can escape, a black hole is in its truest sense, unseeable. All physical laws as we know it collapse inside a black hole. However, the latest revelation brings scientists right to the threshold of the workings of a black hole and illuminates our understanding of such objects.



“Black holes are the most mysterious objects in the universe. We have seen what we thought was unseeable. We have taken a picture of a black hole,” said Sheperd Doeleman, EHT director and Harvard University senior research fellow. France Córdova, director of the U.S. National Science Foundation and an astrophysicist, said that the image brought tears to her eyes. “We have been studying black holes for so long that sometimes it’s easy to forget that none of us has seen one.  This will leave an imprint on people’s memories.”



The fuzzy doughnut-shaped ring in the image is the accretion disc of the black hole - made of gas and dust - that steadily “feeds” the monster inside it. The particles within the disc move at speeds close to those of light and are heated to billions of degrees as they swirl around the black hole and ultimately end up inside. The EHT picked up radiation emitted by these particles and they appear like a crescent because the particles in the side of the disc rotating towards Earth are flung towards us faster and so appear brighter.


The dark portions mark the point of no return. The gravitational pull of the black hole is so intense that beyond it neither light nor matter can travel fast enough to escape its pull. While black holes were first predicted by Einstein and his theory of relativity however he himself doubted it's existence. Over the years there has however been overwhelming evidence about their existence. Along with the image, the gravitational waves discovery made in 2017 has given scientists whole new information into black holes.  


For one, the image and the observations from it proves an assertion of Einstein’s theory of general relativity - the rounded shape of the black hole’s halo. Gravity is so fierce near black holes that reality as we know it is distorted beyond recognition. If you did manage to be close to one chance are that you would be able to see the back of your own head. Right now the EHT is still working on producing an image of the Milky Way’s black hole. “We hope to get that very soon,” said Doeleman.



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