Black holes and a clever trick

Over a year ago, last April, astronomers made history (as they always do, of course) when they managed to take the first ever photo of a black hole. Not just any black hole, but the supermassive black hole located at the center of Messier 87, a massive elliptical galaxy located in the Virgo Cluster over 50 million light years away. This link, which I will post at the end of my spiel, goes over just how exactly we pulled off such an astonishing feat.

In short, we linked together telescopes from all over the world, essentially creating a telescope the size of the earth, all synchronized towards one particular object, in this case, the black hole at the center of M87. This technique is known as Very Long Baseline Interferometry, or VLBI for short. Yes, astronomers aren’t very creative with their naming scheme.

The supermassive black hole located at the center of M87 is over a thousand times the mass of the black hole at the center of our own galaxy, Sagitarrius A*, which is 4 million solar masses, versus the 6 billion solar masses of M87’s supermassive black hole. M87 was chosen both for its size, and for the fact that it is an active black hole, unlike our own.

The odds of successfully pulling this off were incredibly low, but we succeeded, almost as if it was an act of divine providence that we would actually pull this off. I’ll leave the question of whether it was or not to the theologians, of course. Besides setting history for taking the first photo of an actual black hole ever, this event is also important cause it further confirms Einstein’s theory of general relativity. Those looking for answers regarding quantum gravity and how to successfully reconcile the disagreements between the Standard Model and relativity will have to wait their turn for now, alas.

As promised, here’s the link:

https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/edu/news/2019/4/19/how-scientists-captured-the-first-image-of-a-black-hole/

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