Submerging in the physics of the image of the first black hole

On the left is an orange mottled galaxy of m87. to the right of its bright center there is a stream of light, which indicates the jet. On the right is the original image of the black hole taken by eht. It has a soft orange ring around a shadow.
On the right, is the first image of the black hole in the heart of the galaxy M87, taken by the Event Horizon telescope. The wide-field view of the Chandra X-ray observatory of the galaxy M87 (left) reveals the jet of high-energy particles released by the intense magnetic and gravitational fields around the black hole. Credit: X-Rays (left): NASA / CXC / Villanova University / J. Neilsen; Radio (right): Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration

"As I like to say, it's never a good idea to bet against Einstein," Astrophysicist Shep Doeleman told Science Friday in 2016, when the Horizon Telescope project of the Event was underway. Now, this week, astronomers and astrophysicists celebrate the first image of a black hole, an image that offers more evidence of Einstein's theory of general relativity.

At an illuminated press conference on Wednesday, April 10, scientists shared the image for the first time: a ring of twisted light, slightly blurred, surrounding a dark shadow. The global network of telescopes could visualize this supermbadive black hole 55 million light years away, at the core of the Messier 87 galaxy, or M87. But even when the image confirms current ideas about gravity, it also raises new questions about galaxy formation and quantum physics. Director of Event Horizon Telescope Shep Doelemen and Feryal ORZel, a professor of astrophysics at the University of Arizona and an EHT studies scientist, helps us wrap our minds around the image. And Julie Hlavacek-Larrondo, badistant professor of physics and research professor at Canada at the University of Montreal joins the conversation to talk about what scientists would like to discover next.

Relive the moment in which the image was published and explore the simulations, infographics and images of the Horizon Telescope investigation of the Event below.

a radio dish in the middle of a forested mountain covered with snow on a clear blue day
The Big Binocular Telescope, on the right, and the Submillimeter Telescope, one of the eight that are between the Horizon Telescope Ensemble of the Event and one of the two in the group integrated by the University of Arizona, observe the sky from the Observatory Mount Graham International near Tucson, Arizona. Credit: Bob Demers / UANews
the m87 galaxy that looks like a mottled orange on a black background. superimposed on the left there is a close-up of the core of the galaxy that shows the jet of light
A wide-field view of the M87 galaxy, taken by the Chandra X-ray Observatory of NASA, published on April 10, 2019. Credit: X-ray (left): NASA / CXC / Villanova University / J. Neilsen; Radio (right): Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration
an animation of an artistic impression of a swirling black hole that is a red-orange color. There are two jets that flow vertically from the center of the black hole, which is the brightest point in the figure.
The impression of this artist shows the black hole in the heart of the huge elliptical galaxy M87. This black hole was chosen as the object of paradigm shift observations by the Event Horizon Telescope. It shows the superheated material that surrounds the black hole, just like the relativistic jet released by the black hole of M87. Credit: ESO / M. Kornmesser

The artist's impression of the environment around a black hole shows the superheated plasma accretion disk and a relativistic jet. The video also shows the paths of photons in the vicinity of a black hole, and how the Telescope matrix of the event horizon captured the light of the gravitational curvature of the event horizon. Credit: Nicolle R. Fuller / NSF

An infographic of the anatomy of a black hole. A stream of light that comes vertically from the center of the black hole is the relativistic jet. The event horizon is labeled as the thin line around the center of the black hole, or singularity. The most stable orbit is orange immediately around the event horizon. The photon sphere comes next. and then the accretion disk flows out
In this infographic, an artist represents a supermbadive black hole that rotates rapidly surrounded by an accretion disk. The thin disk of rotating material consists of the leftovers of a sun-like star that was shattered by the forces of the black hole. The black hole is labeled, showing the anatomy of this fascinating object. Click on the image for a high resolution version. Credit: ESO

Scientists have photographed a black hole for the first time

Other readings

  • Read the papers about M87 and the image of the black hole in The letters of the astrophysical magazine
  • See the image and read about the background of the Horizon Telescope project of the Event in the breaking news of Science Friday.
  • Find out what Experimenters and theorists want to investigate below with the EHT data in Science Friday.
  • Listen out to a Science Friday 2016 interview with Shep Doeleman and Priyamvada Natarajan about creating black hole images.
  • Learn more about the Event Horizon Telescope project.
  • Want to learn more about black holes? Take a step beyond the Science Friday coverage.

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