Astronomical sensation! An international research team has for the first time been able to take a picture of a black hole and published it.
The researchers have been tracking down black holes in space for years. For this they have set up a worldwide telescope network. The “Event Horizon Telescope” project focused on the black hole in the center of our home galaxy, the Milky Way, and the much larger one in the center of the giant galaxy M87. So far, there were only illustrations of black holes. The recorded specimen is the extremely massive black hole in the center of the galaxy Messier 87, 55 million light-years away.
In order to be able to recognize sufficient details at this gigantic distance, the researchers had compiled eight individual observatories on four continents to form a super-telescope. “The results give us a clear view of a supermassive black hole for the first time,” emphasized Anton Zensus, Director at the Bonn Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy. There, the data of the involved radio telescopes were combined.
Due to their extreme mass black holes not even light can get out of them, so they are practically invisible. However, before it is pulled into a black hole, matter heats up a lot and then shines brightly. This characteristic red glow is shown in the published photograph.
The picture is a confirmation of Albert Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity under the most extreme conditions in the universe, said Karl Schuster, director of the Institute for Radio Astronomy in the Millimeter Range (IRAM), which was involved in the observation campaign.
“Like a black cat on a white sofa”
Around a black hole, a gas and dust disk forms, on which new matter swirls into the space-time gullet. This matter rotates faster and faster, becoming extremely hot due to friction and shining brightly. The telescopes photographed the black hole in front of this so-called accretion disk, “like a black cat on a white sofa,” explained the Max Planck Society.
With the observations also featured in the “Astrophysical Journal”, researchers hope to answer many basic questions, including: Do black holes look as expected? “To be honest, we were surprised at how well the observed dark spot matches the structure predicted from our computer simulations,” says Zensus.
The experimental breakthrough opens the door to a multitude of new observations that could reveal unknown details of cosmic gravity traps, Schuster explained. “In the future, we also want to investigate the dynamics of the vortexing matter. Basically, one wants to make a movie about it. ”
What is a black hole?
Black holes are one of the predictions of general relativity that Albert Einstein set up about a century ago. In them, the mass of several to several billion suns is compressed to a point. Due to the immense gravitation not even light can escape from the direct environment, hence the name. Black holes, for example, can occur when burned out giant stars collapse under their own weight.
How can you map a black hole?
A black hole itself is also invisible to the best telescopes. Drawings based on general relativity often show a black circle with a bright ring. The inside of this ring marks the so-called “event horizon”, which gave the project its name.