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Astronomers capture the first image of a black hole

The South Pole Telescope: part of the EHT (Amble)The South Pole Telescope: part of the EHT (Amble)Astronomers have captured the first ever image of a black hole. They say it will greatly further our understanding of these mysterious objects. The image is of the Messier 87 galaxy, which lies 55 million light years from Earth. It shows a bright orange halo of dust and gas, tracing the outline of a supermassive black hole at the heart of the galaxy. It has an estimated mass equivalent to that of 6.5 billion times that of our Sun, condensed into a tiny speck. The image was captured by the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT), a network of eight radio telescopes located in different parts of the globe, including Antarctica, Spain and Chile. The project involved more than 200 scientists.

The image of a black hole captured by the EHTThe image of a black hole captured by the EHTThe halo is the black hole’s accretion disc, a fuzzy ring of gas and dust. The EHT detected radiation emitted by particles heated to billions of degrees Celsius swirling around the black hole at close to the speed of light before they disappear into it.

The black hole itself—a tiny region of space with a force of gravity so strong that nothing, not even light, can escape—cannot be seen. Instead, the image is of its shadow, the closest we can get to actually viewing a black hole. The black hole’s boundary, also known as the event horizon (from which the EHT takes its name), measures just under 40 billion kilometres across. This may sound huge, but seen from 55 million light years away it is the equivalent of picking out a doughnut on the surface of the Moon from Earth. The EHT achieved the resolution necessary by combining data from eight radio telescopes, effectively creating a telescope the size of the Earth.

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