What Challenges Scientists Faced While Capturing M87 Black Hole?
The entire world was left enthralled on April 10, when an international collaboration of scientists presented before humans something that was believed to be invisible. They announced the first-ever photograph of a supermassive black hole at the center of the Messier 87 galaxy, which is 53.49 million light-years away from earth in the Virgo cluster.
France Córdova, director of the National Science Foundation, which helped fund the project, said that the image brought “tears to my eyes; it’s an amazing image”.
From last two years, scientists have been striving to capture the black hole located at the center of the Milky Way. However, the shadow cast by Sagittarius A* — concluded to be the site of our galaxy’s supermassive black hole — is tiny, and requires a huge telescope of about the size of our planet. Precisely for that reason, scientists were able to produce the image of M87, which was easier to observe for its larger size.
However, the first-ever black hole image was also not easy to obtain, and required synchronization of eight ground-based telescopes around the globe, described as “a virtual Earth-sized telescope”. The project was termed as Event Horizon Telescope (EHT), which used the network of different telescopes located in South America, North America, Antarctica, Greenland, Hawaii, and Europe.
Working in concert, the eight telescopes used an atomic clock to precisely log the time of each observation, while ensuring to get exact data.
Another challenge was the voracious nature of the black holes, which doesn’t even allow light to escape, making them invisible. What we see in the image is the event horizon, a point at which light cannot resist the strong gravitational pull.
“We exposed part of the universe we thought was invisible before,” said Sheperd Doeleman, director of the Event Horizon Telescope.
The first-ever observed M87 black hole is gigantic at its center, all contained in a single point of infinite density. It is nearly 6.5 billion times the mass of our sun. Scientists also highlighted that M87 black hole is around 100 billion km wide, which larger than our entire solar system.
The researchers stated that the size and the shape of M87 is exactly as predicted in Albert Einstein’s theories of gravity. The image depicts a sink, where light in the center gets out of our view inevitably.
Although it was evidently intricate to capture something so cryptic and so far away, the incredible team of scientists have marked one the most remarkable moments of human history. Besides, the first image is just the beginning to create more such events.
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