For the first time we see a picture of one of the most mysterious and fascinating corners of the universe:with 6.5 billion solar masses. It engulfs the interior of a galaxy at a distance of about 55 million light years.
This is an important milestone for cosmologists, reports Mark Strassmann, correspondent for CBS News. Black holes are the strongest vacuum in the universe. They breathe in everything ̵
A scene from "Interstellar" was considered the most realistic film representation a black hole has ever made. It turned out that Hollywood's imagination came close to reality.
"When we saw this focus, our jaws dropped down," said astrophysicist Shep Doeleman. He heads an international team of scientists who revealed this circular silhouette against the glow of superheated matter swirling into its dark abyss.
It's a cosmic premiere – visual proof of the supermassive black hole. It has a diameter of nearly 25 billion miles, almost as large as our solar system, in the center of a nearby galaxy called Messier 87.
"I think this picture will be an important part of astronomy in the years to come," said Doeleman, adding, "Knowing that these monsters exist is humble."
Cosmologists believe that black holes are born when a colossal object, such as an oversized star, dies and collapses. The result is a bottomless sinkhole in which all known laws of physics fall apart.
As in the movies, their irresistible attraction swallows everything that is too close.
Suppose you capture the historical picture as if you were seeing a donut on the lunar surface. Scientists had to synchronize eight radio telescopes on four continents. Four imaging teams on supercomputers took two years to collate all the data.
"It's amazing to me that we can … see a supermassive black hole in the heart of a galaxy 55 million light-years away, you can not stand it," Doeleman said.
Albert Einstein's theories of relativity initially predicted black holes more than a century ago, but even he considered them too bizarre to actually exist. Now scientists believe that black holes lurk in the hearts of other galaxies. A picture of the one closest to us in the Milky Way could be the next.
© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.