Scientists have captured an image of a black hole for the first time since Einstein first predicted their existence a century ago, according to Wired. While astrophysics have found overwhelming evidence for their existence since then, the new development marks the first actual photograph of the phenomenon, which took eight telescopes on five continents, hundreds of researchers, and data “equivalent to 5000 years of mp3 files” to produce.
Sheperd Doeleman, the project director of the Event Horizon Telescope, announced the results at a joint press conference that was live-streamed worldwide.
“Black holes are the most mysterious objects in the Universe. We’ve been at this for so long. When you work at this field for a long time, you get a lot of intermediate results. We could have seen a blob — and we have seen blobs. We could have seen something that was unexpected. But we didn’t see something that was unexpected. We saw something so true. We saw something that really had a ring to it.”
The Event Horizon Telescope is not a single telescope, but a collection of eight radio telescopes around the world, which were focused on the same areas of space in April of 2017.
The details of the development were published in the journal Astrophysical Journal Letters.
Researchers described the black hole as “a monster”; at 40 billion kilometers across, it is more than three million times the size of Earth. It’s 500 million trillion kilometers away.
According to one of the leaders of the project, Professor Heino Falcke of Radboud University in the Netherlands, “it is one of the heaviest black holes that we think exists. It is an absolute monster, the heavyweight champion of black holes in the Universe.”
Falcke first conceived of the project as a PhD student in 1993, when it was widely considered impossible.
The image shows a dark circle surrounded by a bright ring, which is brighter than all the stars in the galaxy combined. At the dark center, gas is pulled into the black hole, from which light can’t escape. The image confirms what many theoretical physicists predicted a black hole would look like.
Capturing an image will allow researchers to further investigate black holes. Scientists still aren’t sure what leads to the bright ring around the center, or what happens to an object once it enters a black hole.
Katie Bouman, a 29-year-old MIT computer science graduate student, created the algorithm that ultimately pieced together data from the telescope network, and led tests to verify that the image was not the result of a technical error.
According to Bouman:
“We’re a melting pot of astronomers, physicists, mathematicians and engineers, and that’s what it took to achieve something once thought impossible.”