Millions around the world saw what a team of astronomers thought was “unseeable” –the ground-breaking picture of a black hole, above, with a brighter side to it.
It showed a flaming orange ring of light, thicker and brighter on one side with a black centre that devours everything including light that comes its way.
The first-ever image of one of the most curious objects in the universe was unveiled at news conferences organised simultaneously in Brussels, Washington, Taipei, Tokyo, Shanghai and Santiago on Wednesday.
Making the historic announcement at the media conference in Washington, Shep Doeleman, an astrophysicist associated with the international Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) project, said astronomers have seen what was thought as “unseeable.”
Calling a black hole nature’s most amazing invisibility cloak, Doeleman said the EHT team working on the project over the years grew to more than 200 people in 20 countries.
Carlos Moedas, European Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation, called the feat to capture the black hole’s image a huge breakthrough for humanity, a new era in science.
Michael Kramer, director at the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy, said the history of science will be divided into the time before the image, and the time after the image.
France Cordova, director of the US National Science Foundation (NSF), one of the sponsors of the EHT project, said the photo captures the extreme environment around a black hole — the point of no return where nothing, not even light, can escape.
The black hole in the photo is located in the centre of the massive elliptical galaxy M87, about 55 million light years from our galaxy in the Virgo galaxy cluster.
Its gravitational field is so strong nothing that approaches its edges can escape. Such star-devouring monsters exist in nearly every galaxy.
Astronomers hope their findings enhance understanding of black holes and confirm their existence first predicted by Albert Einstein in his theory of relativity.
Since a single telescope cannot capture the image of a black hole, astronomers used a network of telescopes to simulate a giant telescope and synchronised them.
The EHT project is trying to capture the image of another black hole dubbed Sagittarius A Star at the centre of the Milky Way. Data from that is being processed.