The first photo of a black hole: the history of creation

It worked. Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) - the “event horizon telescope” - always seemed unlikely: create a virtual Earth-sized telescope to photograph the shadow of a black hole. Each part of this sentence is a little crazy. But it worked. After more than ten years of technical development and fundraising, astronomers collected EHT and showed the first shot of a black hole: a bubble of pure gravity, a hole in space-time, a strange prediction of the general theory of relativity that Albert Einstein himself did not believe for a long time .

And yet it exists

At six simultaneous press conferences atFour continents, astronomers turned on screens with an image on which any expert would unmistakably recognize a black hole: a dark circle surrounded by a ring of light and hanging fire drops, bunches of matter heated to 100 million degrees and circling around a black hole at a speed close to the speed of light.

What does a black hole look like?

Technically, this is a picture of the shadow of a black hole: in particular, a supermassive black hole - a monster with 6.5 billion solar masses in 55 million light-years from Earth - is in the center of Messier 87 galaxy. Black holes capture everything that falls inside, including light, therefore they are black. In a sense, they are fundamentally invisible, one-way space hatches, leading ... it is not clear where. But because of how they deform space, they leave a dark silhouette on the glowing, overheated matter that surrounds them. This scene was captured and revealed to the EHT world.

Since the 1960s, when indirect astronomicalEvidence and breakthroughs in theoretical physics made the existence of black holes virtually indisputable, these objects were suspended: they were the most likely explanation for all kinds of inexplicable phenomena, but they could not be seen.

In the late 1990s, everything changed: Astronomers around the world began building powerful high-frequency radio observatories on the highlands of Hawaii, Mexico, Chile, and the South Pole. Astrophysic theorists have calculated that the theoretical combination of these telescopes using a method called interferometry with superlong bases may allow them to see the shadows of supermassive black holes that were large enough and close to the Earth. The biggest prize has always been the black hole Sagittarius A *, with four million solar masses in the center of the Milky Way. Sagittarius A * remains invisible - at least to the public. But the M87, the only other known black hole within reach of the EHT, is now in the photo.

Usually major scientific discoveries like thisquickly find their way to the masses, but this time the astronomers showed amazing secrecy. Frans Cordova, director of the National Science Foundation — who has invested $ 28 million in ETH over the years — first saw a photo this morning at a press conference. He moved her to tears.

NSF and other funding agencies have promisedthat the result will be "stunning" - and it turned out that way. Still, we received the first direct proof of the existence of an event horizon that defines the border of a black hole. But anyone who hoped that this first shot would destroy the iron rigor of Einstein’s general theory of relativity was disappointed: the black hole looks exactly like it was painted for a hundred years.

But this first shot is just the beginning. Since the observation of 2017, the EHT array has grown in size and sharpness, a new telescope joined it and another joined, and more powerful equipment for digital signal processing is placed on each of the objects. In the future, all possible telescopes for observing M87, Sagittarius A * and other black holes will join the EHT at the same time and in different wavelength ranges - radio, X-ray, gamma-ray, infrared and optical.

It is also worth noting that two hours afterAt least six scientific papers on the topic of black hole observation appeared on the Internet. They almost certainly contain new guesses and questions that we will try to grope and make public in the near future. But think about this for a moment: is it not strange and not surprising that intelligent bipeds, using tools in a small world in the backyard of the solar system, somehow managed to turn their planet into a telescope and take a picture of the "way out" from the Universe?

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