How They Took the First Picture of a Black Hole

By Anonymous

The dark heart of the Milky Way

At the center of our galaxy lies Sagittarius A*, a black hole as massive as four million suns:

The black hole is obscured by thick dust and a bright haze of superheated gases.

An elusive target

A network of eight telescopes called the Event Horizon Telescope tried to use radio waves to peer through the dust cloud and glimpse the edge of the black hole.

After years of analyzing data, the team did not release an image of Sagittarius A* on Wednesday. But it did catch a glimpse of something else.

A giant in Messier 87

An even larger black hole, nearly 7 billion times the mass of the sun, sits at the heart of the nearby galaxy Messier 87.

Messier 87

Messier 87

Messier 87

NASA, ESA and the Hubble Heritage Team

The black hole is spewing a jet of subatomic particles thousands of light years into space.

How They Took the First Picture of a Black Hole

NASA and the Hubble Heritage Team

On Wednesday, astronomers from the Event Horizon Telescope released the first image of the M87 supermassive black hole:

How They Took the First Picture of a Black Hole

Years in the making

The jet of particles streaming from M87 was discovered in 1918, and radio waves emanating from the center of our galaxy were first detected in 1931.

More recently, astronomers have detected gravitational waves from colliding black holes and have tracked distant stars swinging past Sagittarius A*:

The Event Horizon Telescope

Eight radio telescopes around the world synchronized their observations of the black holes over 10 days in April, 2017.

S.M.T.

Submillimeter Telescope

Arizona

J.C.M.T. and S.M.A.

James Clerk Maxwell Telescope and the Submillimeter Array

Hawaii

L.M.T.

The Large Millimeter Telescope

Mexico

APEX and ALMA

Atacama Pathfinder Experiment and Atacama Large Millimeter/ Submillimeter Array

Chile

S.P.T.

South Pole Telescope

Antarctica

S.M.T.

Submillimeter Telescope

Arizona

J.C.M.T. and S.M.A.

James Clerk Maxwell Telescope and the Submillimeter Array

Hawaii

L.M.T.

The Large Millimeter Telescope

Mexico

APEX and ALMA

Atacama Pathfinder Experiment, Atacama Large Millimeter/ Submillimeter Array

Chile

S.P.T.

South Pole Telescope

Antarctica


The network of telescopes was sensitive enough to observe daily variations in the bright ring around the M87 black hole.

How They Took the First Picture of a Black Hole

For more about the Event Horizon Telescope, watch a video preview of the experiment from 2015:

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Background image by NASA/JPL-Caltech/Susan Stolovy.