On April 10, 2019, in coordinated press conferences around the world, researchers unveiled the first direct visual evidence – a photo, albeit in the “light” of radio waves – of a supermassive black hole. The image (above) is the result of a multi-year, international collaboration. The astronomers said it presents “paradigm-shifting” observations of the gargantuan black hole in the center of the galaxy M87, 55 million light-years from Earth. The image doesn’t show the black hole itself; black holes are black because no light can escape them, and thus the holes themselves are invisible. Instead, the image shows what astronomers are calling the black hole’s “shadow,” a bright ring formed as light bends in the intense gravity around the hole. This black hole, by the way, at M87’s heart, is thought to be some 6.5 billion times more massive than our sun.
According to the media reports, to obtain the image, astronomers used the Event Horizon Telescope (@ehtelescope on Twitter) – a planet-scale array of eight ground-based radio telescopes – designed specifically to capture the first-ever black hole photo. This was announced April 10 in a series of six papers published in a special issue of The Astrophysical Journal Letters. To say it is a big deal for astronomers is an understatement. Although black holes have been studied for decades, they’ve been largely theoretical objects. All the images you’ve ever seen of them have been computer simulations, or artist’s conceptions, until now.