What was once un-seeable can now be seen. Black holes, those difficult-to-understand singularities that may reside at the center of every galaxy, are becoming seeable. The Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) has revealed the first-ever image of a black hole, and with this image, and all the science behind it, they may help crack open one of the biggest mysteries in the Universe
We already knew, or were pretty sure we knew, what it would look like. Even a year ago, scientists at the EHT were pretty certain, and they released a simulated image of what this first-ever image of a black hole would look like. But with science, you don’t know until you know. That’s why this image is so important.
The image matches with what astrophysicists theorized it would look like. This is a real feather in the cap for science, and shows the power of theory developed from evidence. It shows that even though black holes are mysterious, and that their ultimate nature is still unknowable at this moment in history, we can still nibble around the edges. Over time we can remove more and more of the mystery until we understand what remains.
Black holes are extreme objects. They are massive, almost incomprehensibly massive, yet in terms of size they are tiny. Because of their extreme nature, they affect their environment in extreme way.
The EHT isn’t a single telescope. It’s more like a virtual telescope, and it’s more properly called a Very Long Baseline Interferometer. What that means is they’ve linked up radio antennae around the globe to observe the same object. This gives the telescope “high angular resolving power.” Basically, the bigger the ‘scope, the more detail we can see. And no telescope is as big as the Earth, except for the EHT. The extremely high resolving power of the EHT means it can see a credit card on the surface of the Moon.
The EHT combines the power of radio-telescope facilities in Hawaii, Mexico, high in the Chilean Atacama Desert, down in Antarctica, and other locations. The data they produce is taken to computing centers at the Max Planck Institute for radio astronomy and the MIT Haystack Observatory, where special atomic clocks are used to calibrate and combine the data, producing this image.
If one of humanity’s goals is to understand nature, then the people behind the Event Horizon Telescope are well on their way. The EHT isn’t done yet. There will be more science results coming from the over 200 researchers working on the project.