The First Picture of a Black Hole

The first picture of a black hole

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The first picture of a black hole

On April 10, 2019, the first picture of a black hole was released to the public. It is the first time in human history that we have visual evidence of a black hole, despite the fact that black holes were first predicted by Einstein over 100 years ago. Previously, all images of black holes were from artists’ imagination or computer generated models such as the one used in Interstellar. This particular black hole is in the heart of a galaxy 55 million light years away and is nearly the size of our entire solar system. The immense distance of these black holes makes it the equivalent of trying to see an orange on the moon or reading a newspaper in Los Angeles while sitting in New York.

The picture was taken using the Event Horizon Telescope, a series of telescopes, on 6 mountains, and four different continents. The Event Horizon Telescope, named after the point of no return in black holes comprises of telescopes in Spain, Chile, Mexico, Arizona, Hawaii, and Antarctica. The EHC is a virtual telescope the size of the Earth with unprecedented sensitivity and the result of 2 decades of international collaboration. The amount of data from the EHC was so large that it could not be transferred via the internet and was instead downloaded onto hundreds of hard drives and sent by FedEx from location to location. Every night of observations resulted in a petabyte of data. Without the work of Katie Bouman and her algorithms, this image would have been impossible. Data from the Event Horizon Telescope was affected by atmospheric disturbance and therefore the measurements could lead to an “infinite number of possible images”. Katie’s algorithms analyzed all the data to produce an accurate image. The final image was a result of multiple images created by different algorithms. Bolman first began work on the algorithm when she was still a graduate student at MIT.

Black holes by definition are impossible to see. A black hole’s gravity is so strong that even light cannot escape it making it impossible to see. The picture taken was of the black hole’s shadow on a bright surrounding such as glowing gas floating in space. Scientists are using the picture to understand the nature of black holes, most of which still remains a mystery.

Scientists managed to “see the unseeable” and take the first picture of a black hole.