First Picture of a Black Hole and What They Are

Dominic Fightmaster, Tech Writer

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On April 10, 2019, the first picture of a black hole was released. It was taken by the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT). Before this, a black hole was something we really couldn’t see but knew was out there. Most of the images of black holes you may have seen weren’t actually pictures, they were simulated images. This picture is a big deal in the world of science and will be a big deal for the world. It can tell us and show us a lot about things we know about them, and things we may not.

Now you may be wondering where this black hole is located. It is in the center of the galaxy M87 (Messier 87). This is a galaxy in the nearby Virgo galaxy cluster. It is 53.49 million light years away from Earth. The black hole has a mass of about 3.5 to 7.22 billion times the mass of the Sun. So you may be wondering what a black hole is. It is a region of space having a gravitational field so intense that no matter or radiation can escape not even light. It is an object with mass packed into a very small area thus creating the gravitational pull. They chose M87’s black hole for many reasons one which is the fact that  Sagittarius A (Sgr A*), the black hole in the center of our galaxy, doesn’t sit still while M87’s does, allowing them to get a better picture. Sagittarius A has a mass of 4 million solar masses which means the mass of the sun used as a unit of mass, equal to 1.989 × 1030 kg. M87’s black hole is about 1,000 times as massive as the Sgr A*.

We don’t know much about them but the things we do know are pretty cool. A black hole has 3 main parts to it. The singularity, outer event horizon, and the inner event horizon. We will start from the inside and go out. Starting with the singularity, located in the very center of the black hole. It is a one-dimensional point that contains a huge mass in an infinitely small space. Density and gravity become infinite as space-time curves. Now the event horizon is the boundary around the mouth of the black hole where light losses the ability to escape. Also called the point of no return. If you get stuck in this area you will not be able to escape. Sometimes there is a disk spinning around the black hole. This is the accretion disk. Accretion is the accumulation of particles in a massive object by gravitationally attracting more matter. The accretion disk is a rotating disk of matter formed by accretion around a massive body.

You may be asking how did they take this picture. EHT is a network of eight telescopes which use radio waves to see through the dust clouds. These telescopes are located around the world. The Submillimeter Telescope (S.M.T.) located in Arizona. The James Clerk Maxwell Telescope and the Submillimeter Array located in Hawaii. The Large Millimeter Telescope in Mexico. Atacama Pathfinder Experiment and Atacama Large Millimeter / Submillimeter Array in Chile and the South Pole Telescope in Antarctica. These 8 telescopes allowed us to view one of the mysteries of the universe. We still have many questions about black holes but this one image confirmed some things we knew. This one image is a big deal in the world of science and will be for a long time and maybe we can see more pictures of black holes in the future.