Black holes have evaded a real closeup for centuries, the elusive beasts of the universe slipping by unseen—until now. Today, the international team of the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) released the first-ever image of a black hole darkened by the effects of the event horizon, the invisible boundary where nothing, not gas, dust, or even light, can escape its powerful gravitational grasp.
“We have seen what we thought was unseeable,” says EHT Director Shep Doeleman, during the April 10 press conference. “This is a remarkable achievement. What you’re seeing here is the last photon orbit. What you’re seeing is evidence of the event horizon.”
The image is 20 years in the making. The high-angular resolution image—made up of many snapshots like a collage—depicts the 6 billion solar-mass black hole at the center of the galaxy Messier 87, or M87, some 55 million light years away. It reveals that the theorized event horizon, that inescapable pull at the membrane of the black hole, exists. And it backs up Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity.
“We’ve been studying black holes for so long,” says France A. Córdova, director of the National Science Foundation, during the April 10 press conference. “It’s sometimes easy to forget that none of us have actually seen one.”
“It’s basically like Interstellar [the film], except that for the first time we’re hoping to do it with data,” astrophysicist Feryal Özel, an Event Horizon Telescope team member stationed at the telescope arrays in Arizona, said to Science Friday in a phone interview before the Wednesday announcement.