On black holes and photographs

Following the release of the first ever image of a black hole, we scoured the internet for some of the best videos and articles to explain what black holes are and why the image is so significant.

  • a bright orange halo surrounding a black circle

    The first ever image of a black hole

    Credit: EHT

Yesterday, the very first image ever taken of a black hole was revealed to the world.

The image of the supermassive black hole at the centre of the Messier 87 galaxy, is about 55 million light years from Earth and about 40 billion kilometres wide.

To take a picture of something so very far away, data from eight radio telescopes that make up the Event Horizon Telescope project was used to compile the image.

The scientific papers detailing the announcement are free to read and are absolutely fascinating. Here are a few more videos and articles about black holes, the telescopes used and the paradigm shifting nature of this breakthrough image.

What is a black hole?

For a short introduction of what black holes are, how they are created and how they do, look no further than our friends at Kurzgesagt.

Jerome Gauntlett gave an in-depth lecture here at the Ri about how black holes interract with the fundamental laws of physics, and why some physicists believe that they may be the key to unlocking the next phase in our understanding.

How was the picture taken?

Back in 2016, Katie Bouman gave a TEDx talk about how her team is building the world's largest telescope system with the aim of taking a picture of a black hole.

On 10 April 2019, the fruits of the team's work was released to the world.

The telescope array consisted of eight linked telescopes, including the APEX and the ALMA telescopes. You can find out more about the latter from Danielle George's discourse.

The significance of the image

Taking a picture of something that by definition is unseeable has been out of reach for us until this discovery. In the words of Joss Fong from Vox: "Ever since physicists conceived of black holes centuries ago, every image of one, from our textbooks and our space agencies, they're all illustrations."

And while the observed black hole is very similar to the models scientists have created, the artistic impressions have at times looked very different. Veritasium has a really great explanation of why we  don't see some of the features, like the proposed blue jets often depicted in illustrations, on the image that was released.

If you feel that you could do with even more black hole science in your life and can cope with the infinite size and mystery of the universe, join us and astronomer Chris Impey on Thursday 9 May for "The physics of black holes".

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