On Wednesday, astronomers revealed the first image ever taken of a black hole, bringing a dramatic conclusion to a decades-long effort. The iconic image offers humanity its first glimpse at the gas and debris that swirl around its event horizon, the point beyond which material disappears forever. A favorite object of science fiction has finally been made real on screen.
Their target was a nearby galaxy dubbed M87 and its supermassive black hole, which packs the mass of six and half billion suns. Despite its size, the black hole is so far from Earth – 53 million light-years – that capturing the image took a telescope the size of the planet.
This monumental accomplishment was only possible thanks to the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT). The image data was taken back in 2017 but scientists have spent two years piecing it together. That’s because EHT is made of up eight independent observatories that are scattered across the globe, cooperating together to act as one enormous detector. Shep Doeleman, director of the EHT, announced at Wednesday’s press event, “We are delighted to report to you today that we have seen what we thought was unseeable.” Researchers made their grand announcement simultaneously in seven different countries this morning, accompanied by a series of scientific papers published at the same time in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.