Carnes: Copious supply of black holes

The radio telescope at the Algonquin Observatory

An worldwide scientific team on Wednesday announced a milestone in astrophysics - the first-ever photo of a black hole - using a global network of telescopes to gain insight into celestial objects with gravitational fields so strong no matter or light can escape.

SMU physicist Joel Meyers said up until now there'd been a lot of indirect proof that backed up the idea that black holes existed - like how the stars near the region interact with the gravitational pull and the gas emissions that come from the material that falls into them. It was a reminder of the wonder of nature, and a milestone in humanity's exploration of the heavens.

The picture is taken of the center of the Messier 87 galaxy within the Virgo cluster, which is 53.49 million light year away and around 6.5 billion times the mass of the sun. More than 200 researchers from around the world worked together to capture the picture, a visual representation of radio data collected by the global telescope array, known as the Event Horizon Telescope.

Doeleman says, 'If we had many more stations, then we could really start to see in real time movies of the black hole accretion and rotation'. The event horizon is very sensitive to an underlying theoretical model.

Einstein's baby, general relativity (E=MC squared was his mistress), predicts that any object collapsing beyond a certain point would form a black hole, inside which a singularity would appear. This gives us a new and more direct way to estimate the black hole parameters. All previous pictures of black holes were either simulations or animations.

"Seeing a black hole, or rather, its shadow, for the first time, is a huge scientific accomplishment and success for fundamental science".

So although there is a never-ending supply of politically-based black hole metaphors (like the gap between Congresswoman Ilhan Omar's brain and her mouth), nothing beats the real thing.

Bouman was instrumental in the development of the black hole imaging algorithm called Continuous High-resolution Image Reconstruction using Patch priors, or CHIRP.



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