Using a sh%$ load of radio telescopes and image processing software, astronomers have released the first images ever of a black hole:
Astronomers announced on Wednesday that at last they had captured an image of the unobservable: a black hole, a cosmic abyss so deep and dense that not even light can escape it.
For years, and for all the mounting scientific evidence, black holes have remained marooned in the imaginations of artists and the algorithms of splashy computer models of the kind used in Christopher Nolan’s outer-space epic “Interstellar.” Now they are more real than ever.
“We have seen what we thought was unseeable,” said Shep Doeleman, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and director of the effort to capture the image, during a Wednesday news conference in Washington, D.C.
The image, of a lopsided ring of light surrounding a dark circle deep in the heart of a galaxy known as Messier 87, some 55 million light-years away from Earth, resembled the Eye of Sauron, a reminder yet again of the implacable power of nature. It is a smoke ring framing a one-way portal to eternity.
To capture the image, astronomers reached across intergalactic space to Messier 87, or M87, a giant galaxy in the constellation Virgo. There, a black hole several billion times more massive than the sun is unleashing a violent jet of energy some 5,000 light-years into space.
To see into the shadows, astronomers needed to be able to tune their radio telescope to shorter wavelengths. And they needed a bigger telescope.
Enter the Event Horizon Telescope, the dream child of Dr. Doeleman. By combining data from radio telescopes as far apart as the South Pole, France, Chile and Hawaii, using a technique called very long baseline interferometry, Dr. Doeleman and his colleagues created a telescope as big as Earth itself, with the power to resolve details as small as an orange on the lunar surface.
In April 2017, the network of eight telescopes, including the South Pole Telescope, synchronized by atomic clocks, stared at the two targets off and on for 10 days.
For two years, the Event Horizon team reduced and collated the results. The data were too voluminous to transmit over the internet, so they were placed on hard disks and flown back to M.I.T.’s Haystack Observatory, in Westford, Mass., and the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy, in Bonn, Germany.