Holey Moley

Isabella Molloy, Staff Writer

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On April 10, 2019, scientists finally revealed the first ever image, made from eight radio telescopes linked around the world, of a black hole. Astronomers named the black hole, that is 53 million light years away in a galaxy, Messier 87, “M87”.

Though named “M87” after its placement in the center of the supergiant elliptical galaxy in the constellation Virgo, Larry Kimura, a Hawaiian language professor at the University of Hawaii at Hilo who was approached by astronomers, named the black hole “Powehi”. CNN News claims that the black hole’s name comes from “Po”, meaning profound dark source of unending creation, and “wehi” which is one of the ways that po is described in a hawaiian chant.

A black hole is a region of space, and collapsed stars, whose mass is so large and dense. Although light cannot escape a black hole itself, a ring surrounds every black hole known as the event horizon. Black holes emit large amounts of super hot plasma creating a bright ring of light around the center which can be seen in the photograph. Not only do they have the ability to emit huge amounts of plasma, but their significant gravitational pull consumes all surrounding matter, even light. Scientists are able to identify black holes by their blackness because it is an absence of light in a large area of space.

Massive black holes, tiny astronomical objects, have been impossible to directly observe and photograph until now. In order to photograph something so far away, the Event Horizon Telescope team needed a telescope as massive as Earth. Because this is impossible, the EHT team connected eight telescopes together from around the world and collected their data of the black hole. The Event Horizon Telescope team discovered that the black hole is 6.5 billion times more massive than the sun. In order to capture the image, the EHT team used very-long-baseline interferometry, a technique to get sharper images that synchronises telescope facilities around the world and exploits the rotation of our planet to form one huge, Earth-size telescope observing at a wavelength of 1.3 mm. The discovery of the black hole required close collaboration by researchers from all around the world, and these telescopes produced enormous amounts of data which were then stored in hundreds of hard drives. The captured data was then sent to highly specialised supercomputers at the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy and MIT Haystack Observatory where it was then combined to create one image. The image was completed in 2017 by 200 researchers, though not released until this year.

Interestingly, what Albert Einstein predicted a hundred years ago is true. The center of a black hole is where all the matter of an object is condensed into a volume so small that the density is infinite. Experts proved what Einstein previously theorized: that everything collapses into nothingness included all matter and even time itself. Evidence of a black hole supports the claim that there really are places in the universe where we can travel to but not return.

With this new imagine of M87, people now can see the black hole’s shape and shadow and expand on their understanding of black holes. The first image will be studied and analyzed for years and, possibly, other images of black holes will be captured to broaden our understanding of the atmosphere outside of Earth.