The world's first picture of a black hole

Astronomers have done what was thought to be impossible – they captured the unseeable, a picture of a black hole, an object so dense, nothing, not even light, can escape it. The photo was taken by scientists at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

The picture of the black hole shows a lopsided ring of light surrounding a dark circle – the black hole itself. The black hole is in a galaxy known as Messier 87 in the constellation Virgo. The black hole is 55 million light years away from earth. That is so far, if you hopped a ride on the Space Shuttle, it would take you 20,450,000 years to reach it. Here’s what messier 87 looks like through a telescope.

Messier 87 in the constellation Virgo

To capture the image was no small feat. Astronomers used eight radio telescopes located on six different mountains. The telescopes were so powerful, they could see an object as small as an orange on the surface of the moon. They pointed the telescopes at the galaxy in Virgo for 10 days. This is one of the telescope arrays used to take the picture of the black hole.

Some of the telescopes used to take the first picture of a black hole

The telescopes gathered data for 10 days. The amount of data was so large, the scientists could not transfer it over the Internet. The data was placed on computer harddrives and flown to M.I.T.’s Haystack Observatory in Westford, Massachusetts and Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bon, Germany. It took the scientists more than a year to assemble the data into the picture shown above.

Albert Einstein discovered black holes. His mathematical equations showed that if too much matter (or energy) were concentrated in one place, it could be so dense that it would begin collapsing, sucking in stars, comets, meteors, and even light. At first Einstein thought his math was wrong but he eventually came to accept his discovery of the black hole as something that really could exist. Scientists then proposed that black holes formed when stars ran out of fuel and collapsed.

Today we still do not know what is inside a black hole nor what happens to someone if they fell into one. Thus, if you see a black hole idling through your neighborhood, run away as fast as you can.

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