"We have seen the gates of hell", Dutch astrophysicist says about first ever black hole pic

The first ever picture of a black hole. This one is in galaxy M87
The first ever picture of a black hole. This one is in galaxy M87. (Photo: Event Horizon Telescope)

Astronomers managed to produce the first ever picture of an event horizon - a black hole's edge - by stringing together a global network of radio telescopes. "We have seen the gates of hell at the end of space and time", astrophysicist Heino Falcke of Radboud University in Nijmegen said about the picture at a press conference in Brussels, science journal Nature reports.

The results were revealed by the Event Horizon Telescope collaboration at six press conferences on four continents on Wednesday. The pictures of a glowing ring-like structure shows the black hole at the center of galaxy M87. "What you're looking at is a ring of fire created by the deformation of space-time. Light goes around, and looks like a circle", Flacke explained at the Brussels press conference. 

The black hole is around 55 million light years away from earth and 6.5 billion times the mass of the sun, according to Nature. The images show the event horizon, which is the surface beyond which gravity is so incredibly strong that nothing that crosses that point can ever come back out. Not even light. The image is a "tremendous accomplishment", Stanford University astrophysicist Roger Blandford said. "It is yet another confirmation of general relativity as the correct theory of strong gravity."

These amazing pictures are the result of two years' hard work, after the team observed two black holes over five nights in April 2017. The black holes in question are the one in M87 and the one at the center of the Milky Way, called Sagittarius A*. By linking up eight radio observatories across the globe, from Hawaii to the South Pole, the team managed to get enough resolution to capture the distant objects. The team combined the data from the observatories and their analyses quickly showed that they could get a clean picture from M87.

"We focused all our attention on M87 when we saw our first results because we saw that this is going to be awesome", Falcke said. Astrophysicist Monika Moscibrodzka, also from Radboud, said that the current measurements are not precise enough to measure how fast the M87 black hole spins. But the measurements did reveal that it spins clockwise in the sky. 

The team will now turn its attention to Sagitarius A*. This black hole is nearly a thousand times smaller that the one in M87. As a result, matter orbited it many times during each observation. This produced a fast changing signal instead of a steady one, theoretical astrophysicist Luciano Rezzolla at Gothe University explained. This made the data more complicated to interpret, but also potentially richer in information, he said. 

Tags: