On April 10th, 2019, the Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration released the first real image of a black hole showing plasma orbiting around the event horizon at the center of the galaxy, M87. The black hole is over 55 million light-years away, meaning that we are seeing it 55 million years in the past.
The brightness in the picture shows where plasma is coming toward us and is also “a place where even light cannot escape” as Albert Einstein said.
A black hole is said to have an infinite density, called a singularity, and is formed when the center of a large star (much larger than our sun) collapses upon itself after burning all of its fuel. After the collapse of a star this big, it causes a supernova, an imploding star that blasts into space, creating either a neutron star or in this case, a black hole.
According to Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration, it took 2 years, 12,000 simulations, 200 researchers, 60 institutes, and a lot of satellites to finally create a realistic image of this black hole.
“Once we were sure we had imaged the shadow, we could compare our observations to extensive computer models that include the physics of warped space, superheated matter, and strong magnetic fields. Many of the features of the observed image match our theoretical understanding surprisingly well” remarks Paul T.H. Ho, Director of the Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration.
The EHT or Event Horizon Telescope used a technique called, “very-long-baseline interferometry (VLBI)” which synchronizes telescope facilities around the world and exploits the rotation of our planet to form one huge, Earth-size telescope observing at a wavelength of 1.3 mm.
“We have achieved something presumed to be impossible just a generation ago” concluded Paul. “Breakthroughs in technology, connections between the world’s best radio observatories, and innovative algorithms all came together to open an entirely new window on black holes and the event horizon.”