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

Worked. Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) — “telescope event horizon” — always seemed unlikely: to create a virtual telescope the size of the Earth to photograph the shadow the black hole. Each part of the sentence a little bit insane. But it didn’t. After more than ten years development and fundraising, astronomers have collected and EHT revealed the first image of a black hole: a vial of pure gravity, a hole in space-time, so strange prediction of General relativity that he albert Einstein for a long time did not believe that it is possible.

And still it exists

Six simultaneous press conferences in four continents astronomers have included a screen image on which any expert would recognize unmistakably a black hole: a dark circle surrounded by a ring of light and hanging fire drops, blobs of matter, heated to 100 million degrees and circling around the black hole at speeds close to the speed of light.

Looks like a black hole

Technically, this picture is the shadow of the black hole: in particular, a supermassive black hole — monster from 6.5 billion solar masses at 55 million light-years from Earth in the center of the galaxy Messier 87. Black holes capture everything that falls inside, including light, so they are black. In a sense, they are fundamentally invisible, unilateral space hatches leading… nowhere. But because of how they deform space, they leave a dark silhouette on flaming, superheated matter that surrounds them. This scene was captured and showed to the world the EHT.

C 1960-ies, when indirect astronomical evidence and advances in theoretical physics made the existence of black holes is almost certain that these objects were in limbo: they were the most likely explanation for all sorts of unexplained phenomena, but to see them was not possible.

In the late 1990-ies all the astronomers around the world began to build powerful high-frequency radio Observatory on the hills of Hawaii, Mexico, Chile and the South pole. Astrophysics theorists calculated that the theoretical Association of these telescopes using a technique called interferometry with superlong bases can allow them to see the shadow of the supermassive black holes that were large enough and close to the Ground. The biggest prize was always the black hole Sagittarius A* is four million solar masses at the center of the milky Way. Sagittarius a* is invisible — at least to the public. But M87, the only other known black hole within reach of EHT, now I got a photo.

Usually, a major scientific discovery like this quickly find its way to the masses, but this time astronomers showed surprising stealth. France Cordova, Director, National Science Foundation — which has invested $ 28 million in the ETH for many years — first saw the picture this morning at a press conference. He touched her to tears.

NSF and other funding agencies promised that the result will be “stunning” — and so he did. After all, we have obtained the first direct proof of the existence of the event horizon that defines the boundary of the black hole. But anyone who was hoping that this first shot will destroy the iron rigor of the General theory of relativity, disappointed: the black hole looks exactly as it was painted a hundred years.

But this first picture is just the beginning. Since the observation 2017 array EHT has grown in size and importance, he was joined by a new telescope and will be joined by another, and each of the objects is more powerful hardware for digital signal processing. In the future, EHT will join all possible telescopes for observing M87, Sagittarius A* and other black holes, simultaneously and in different ranges of wavelengths — radio, x-ray, gamma-ray, infrared and optical.

It is also worth noting that two hours after the press conference appeared on the Internet for at least six scientific papers on the subject of observations of the black hole. They almost certainly contain new conjectures and questions we will try to find and publish in the near future. But think for a moment about this: is it not strange and not surprising that intelligent bipeds that use tools in a small world on the outskirts of the Solar system, managed somehow to turn their planet into a telescope and photograph the “exit” from the Universe?

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