April 10, 2019 was another exciting day for science, as scientists first presented a photo of a black hole! What could capture the picture? And how did you get it?
In fact, the idea of photographing a black hole seems absurd. The very nature of the object is opposed to this. But the snapshot does exist! How? Black holes are characterized by incredible density. They generate such a powerful magnetic field that even electromagnetic energy with visible light cannot avoid attraction.
In essence, these are cosmic stealth. Therefore, the photo shows the horizon of the event, a whirlwind of gas, dust and stars, as well as the light itself. All this is absorbed by the inner darkness of the mysterious cosmic monster. If Albert Einstein were with us now, he would have to sit down in surprise. After all, he first began to consider these objects in the equations, but did not want to believe that they could be real.
Messier 87 (Virgo A, NGC 4486) is a supergiant elliptical galaxy, 53.5 million light-years distant. It occupies a place in the constellation Virgo, and in apparent magnitude reaches 9.59. The area is 7.2 x 6.8 angular minutes (120000 light years).
So, the researchers managed to create a portrait of a black hole in the center of the giant elliptical galaxy Messier 87 (in the constellation Virgo), 53.5 million light-years distant from us. Two years of observations were spent on the creation of this image in the 8 largest Earth telescopes scattered over different parts of the planet (the program of the Event Horizon telescope). In fact, their combination allowed forming a lens the size of the planet itself. Interestingly, the network of telescopes also tracked a supermassive black hole Sagittarius A * in the Milky Way. But why did we manage to fix the portrait of the object M87, located much further away, and not the black hole of our galaxy, which is only 26000 light-years distant? It's all about the size.
The black hole in the galaxy M87 is much higher than in the parameters of Sagittarius A *. In fact, its mass is 7 billion solar or 1700 times larger than our black hole. In addition, the monster in M87 actively absorbs matter, forming jets with a length of 5,000 light years!
Image of the area around the center of the Milky Way
Of course, this picture should be taken as the first sketch, because the researchers plan to connect additional powerful telescopes and improve visibility. But this photo is also incredibly important, as it provides a first look at the insides of a black hole.
Back in 2016, the LIGO observatory was able to detect the collision of a pair of black holes, confirming that their existence goes beyond the theory. And now we literally watch the first black hole in the face! The researchers will continue to study the picture and plan to photograph other black holes, because now we know how to do it.