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By Corey S. Powell
The first direct image of a black hole was revealed Wednesday that scientists around the world were almost dizzy when they finally got the chance to see one of the most mysterious objects in the universe.
"An unparalleled result," rejoiced Shep Doeleman, director of Event Horizon Telescope, the international team of scientists who created the image using a network of radio telescopes assembled into a single earth-size observatory.
"I can not imagine myself experiencing a telescope image of a black hole," said Jean-Pierre Luminet of the French National Center for Scientific Research, who created the first visualization of a black hole in 1
The remarkable snapshot shows a black hole of a monster located 55 million light-years from Earth in the neighboring galaxy M87. Pōwehi (pronounced poe-vay-hee), a word from Hawaiian mythology that means "beautified dark source of infinite creation," is 6.5 billion times as massive as the sun, and has a diameter of 24 billion miles. Its mass and powerful gravity cast a shadow against the bright, hot gas that swirls around it, creating a distinctive donut shape.
The Event Horizon Telescope project is the culmination of a century of speculation about black holes, collapsed masses, where gravity is so intense that neither light nor light can escape. Until now, scientists who wanted to understand these puzzles could study them only indirectly: testing theories with computer simulations or watching how the strong gravity of the black holes affects matter and the space around them. Now the objects are visible, almost tangibly real.
The first image of a black hole heralds a new era of physics. Now that they can directly observe these bizarre objects, experts expect an avalanche of new observations – and new cosmic discoveries.
Einstein Continues the Tests
One of the most striking things about the Pōwehi image is that it is very similar to the simulations of black holes created using computer models. These models are all based on Einstein's theory of general relativity and make the game an impressive confirmation of the ideas of the famous physicist.
"We were surprised how clear the signature was," Doeleman said in an email to NBC News MACH. "Einstein's theory of gravity predicts that we should see a ring of light, but that it has thrown us so clearly through the head." (A little irony: Einstein himself did not believe in black holes, arguing that this showed his equations that such objects were theoretically possible, "they do not exist in physical reality."
The ring of light around Pōwehi is clearly one-sided Another predicted effect is that the gas around the black hole is orbiting furiously, and the side that turns to Earth appears brighter than the side that is going away, the pattern shows that the black hole is clockwise in our view In an e-mail, Heino Falcke, a radio astronomer from the Radboud University in the Netherlands and a member of the Event Horizon Telescope team, said in an e-mail.
The image does not reveal what is happening at the event horizon, the theoretical "surface" of a black Lochs: The event horizon is one of the strangest predictions about Einstein's Theory of Relativity, the point where time does not come to a standstill The observations of the event horizon do not even confirm the existence of an event horizon.
"It looks like an event horizon and rages like an event horizon, but you can never rule out something that almost matches an event horizon, a similar shadow," said Falcke. "Each competing model has to be tested individually. The cool thing is – now we can.
On Distorted Space … and Beyond
The amazing power of the Event Horizon Telescope means that many other unanswered questions in astronomy can suddenly be answered.
It's the first time we've been able to test our predictions of how black holes digest matter and fire powerful jets of material that can disrupt entire galaxies, "Doeleman said. Such jets can grow up to 100,000,000 times as wide as the black hole itself, and no one knows exactly how they will form.
The regions around black holes are also extreme places where gas is heated by the millions and light is whirled at almost 200 ° C. They are natural laboratories to test the outer limits of the laws of physics. "The next step is to further sharpen the image so that we can study the dynamics of the black hole – how does the image change, how does it affect the environment. This will let us go from creating stills of black holes to making movies, "said Doeleman.
Pōwehi is just one of billions of supermassive black holes that are believed to exist in the universe, in the centers of Future Horizon Telescope upgrades will bring more of these objects in sight, including Sagittarius A * (pronounced Sagittarius A-Star), the huge black hole at the center of our own Milky Way, and Falcke and the rest of the team have already made attempts Seeing Sagittarius A *, but our local black hole flickers quickly, making it what it calls "an extra challenge."
The Horizon Telescope event is a blessing to many others in astronomical observations beyond black holes
"The resolving power of the telescope is amazing," says Mustafa Amin and Andrea Isella, an astronomer at Rice University, in an e-mail. (Their sharpness is like reading e-mails on an iPhone in New York City while they're lounging in a Parisian café.) They want to use that power to watch little planets forming around other stars, or around to observe sensitive structures in distant galaxies.
The possibilities, however, are almost unlimited, Falcke and the other Black Hole bats are looking forward to well-deserved sleep. "People were exhausted to do this huge job under this pressure," he said. "It would be really good to take a break and reconsider the way we do things."
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