Eric Warner Staff Writer
“In space no one can hear you scream; and in a black hole, no one can see you disappear” – Stephen Hawking, Black Holes: The Reith Lectures.
On April 10, the National Science Foundation (NSF) released the first official photograph of a black hole’s shadow at the heart of a distant galaxy known as Messier 87. This incredible image was taken by the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT), a series of radio dishes and other telescopes across the world that are linked together to create an Earth-sized interferometer, a device used to make precise measurements and images through the interference of two beams of light.
According to EventHorizonTelescope.org, the goal of the EHT was originally to “…directly observe the immediate environment of a black hole with angular resolution comparable to the event horizon”. It’s safe to say that with this image the team working on the EHT and NSF have certainly achieved this goal but are sure to continue observing these colossal phenomena. This image was initially announced in the form of a series of papers published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, which revealed that this black hole was resided over 55 million light-years from Earth in the Virgo galaxy cluster. NSF Director France Córdova had this to say about this amazing achievement: “This is a huge day in astrophysics. We’re seeing the unseeable. Black holes have sparked imaginations for decades. They have exotic properties and are mysterious to us. Yet with more observations like this one they are yielding their secrets. This is why NSF exists. We enable scientists and engineers to illuminate the unknown, to reveal the subtle and complex majesty of our universe.”
Scientists are relatively unsure where black holes come from, but many think supermassive black holes, of which this image is of, were formed at the same time the galaxy they reside in was. Others believe that stellar black holes form when stars die or collapse in on themselves and cause a supernova. Others still believe that some black holes formed during the beginning of the universe. Nevertheless, black holes are galactic phenomena that are consistent of densely packed matter which pull gravity so much in on itself that even light cannot escape it’s reach. They are objects in space of colossal mass and tiny volume that can even warp the fabric of space-time.
There are four types of black holes: primordial, meaning that they formed shortly after the Big Bang through the condensing of early cosmic materials; intermediate-mass, meaning black holes which are within the range of stellar and supermassive black holes; stellar, which are the result of a supernova or a death of a massive star; and finally, supermassive, which have masses up to billions of solar masses and are often the center of galaxies. In fact, the supermassive black hole indicated in this image has a mass that is 6.5 billion times larger than our own Sun. Since black holes have such a strong gravitational pull that even light can’t escape it, this image actually shows the black hole’s shadow through the display of its event horizon, a swirl of dust, gas, and stars, and light that is in the process of being absorbed along the edge of the celestial phenomenon.
Ever since Einstein created the theory of relativity explaining the law of gravitation and how it relates to naturally occurring forces scientists have been trying to prove it through numerous discoveries since it’s conception. Scientists such as the late Stephen Hawking have been trying to solve the mysteries of the universe through the groundwork established by the theory of relativity. This stupendous achievement from all of the crew members at EHT and NSF not just helps prove Einstein’s theory to actual fact but it proves that humanity can do the impossible. The unseeable has been seen and the nothing is truly beyond the horizon.