we’ve all watched the incredible movie Interstellar , one of the rare movies that present the logic of science . In the movie , we get an up-close look at a supermassive black hole set against the backdrop of bright gas , the black hole’s massive gravitational pull bends light into a ring .
However this isn’t a real photograph but a computer graphic rendering an artistic interpretation of what a black hole might look like . 100 years ago Albert Einstein first published his theory of general relativity in the years since then scientists have provided a lot of evidence in support of it, but one thing predicted from this theory black holes still have not been directly observed although we have some ideas to what a black hole might look like, the astronomers never actually taken a picture of one before but you might be surprised to note that it may soon change.
what you are seeing is the first ever image of a black hole , maybe it doesn’t look spectacular at first but consider this black holes by their very nature are invisible because their gravitational pull is so strong that not even light can escape them. For many years astronomers thought that an image like this was impossible how do you take a picture of something that does not emit light , well it starts with a small team of innovators and ends with a telescope that is unlike anything the world has ever seen .
Now despite major advances in telescope technology there is no single telescope on earth that can take a picture of a black hole, they’re all too small so astronomers innovated if one telescope couldn’t do the job then perhaps “8” would and they were right , they used eight radio telescopes stationed at different points across the world and kept them all in sync with powerful atomic clocks.
They called the effort the event horizon telescope , this series of telescopes combined has about the same capabilities as if you had built a telescope as large as our entire planet and for the first time in history it has shown us what a black hole around 55 million light-years away looks like , this black hole is actually a supermassive black hole it’s about 6 and 1/2 billion times as massive as our Sun, that’s enormous even compared to other supermassive black holes and lives in the center of the Messier 87 galaxy and as far as experts can tell , it looks exactly like what Einstein’s general theory of relativity predicted.
As you can see on your left, what the event horizon teams thought the black hole would look like , and on your right the real image of the black hole , the light you see is what’s called the accretion disk , it’s a disc of light that forms around the black hole when a star travels too close and is broken apart in the process but the most important part of this photo is where there is no light , that dark circle in the center which measures 25 billion miles across that right there is proof that black holes look and behave how astronomers thought more specifically that they actually have an edge , it’s a place of no return which astronomers call the event horizon .
As you see in the photo , once you cross the event horizon the black hole’s gravity is so strong that you cannot escape , not you nor the fastest spacecraft and not even the fastest thing in the universe light that’s why the edge and everything beyond it are black trapped inside the black hole’s gravitational grip .
The black Hole image may be just the beginning , the event horizon telescope team has also turned its sights on another black hole one that is closer to home called Sagittarius , a star it’s the supermassive black hole at the center of our own galaxy the Milky Way about 25,000 light years away but it’s significantly smaller than the one in Messier 87 so it will probably be more difficult to image and since it took astronomers two years to combine and analyze data for this first image it may be a while before we see what other black holes look like.