Plunging Into The Physics Of The First Black Hole Image – Science Friday

Plunging Into The Physics Of The First Black Hole Image – Science Friday


34:15 minutes

On the right is the first-ever image of the black hole at the heart of galaxy M87, taken by the Event Horizon Telescope. The NASA Chandra X-ray Observatory’s wide-field view of the M87 galaxy (left) reveals the jet of high-energy particles launched by the intense gravitational and magnetic fields around the black hole. Credit: X-ray (left): NASA/CXC/Villanova University/J. Neilsen; Radio (right): Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration

“As I like to say, it’s never a good idea to bet against Einstein,” astrophysicist Shep Doeleman told Science Friday back in 2016, when the Event Horizon Telescope project was just getting underway. Now, this week astronomers and astrophysicists are celebrating the first-ever black hole image—an image that offers more proof of Einstein’s theory of general relativity.

At an illuminating press conference on Wednesday, April 10th, scientists shared the image for the first time: a slightly blurry lopsided ring of light encircling a dark shadow. The global telescope array was able to image this supermassive black hole from 55 million light years away, in the core of the galaxy Messier 87, or M87. But even as the image confirms current ideas about gravity, it also raises new questions about galaxy formation and quantum physics. Event Horizon Telescope director Shep Doelemen and Feryal Özel, professor of astrophysics at the University of Arizona and EHT study scientist, help us wrap our minds around the image. And Julie Hlavacek-Larrondo, assistant professor of physics and Canada research chair at the University of Montreal joins the conversation to talk about what scientists would like to discover next.

Relive the moment when the image was released and explore simulations, infographics, and visuals of the Event Horizon Telescope’s research below.

The Large Binocular Telescope, right, and the Submillimeter Telescope—one of eight among the Event Horizon Telescope Array and one of two in the array integrated by the University of Arizona—observe the sky from the Mount Graham International Observatory near Tucson, Arizona. Credit: Bob Demers/UANews
A wide-field view of the M87 galaxy, taken by the NASA Chandra X-ray Observatory, released on April 10, 2019. Credit: X-ray (left): NASA/CXC/Villanova University/J. Neilsen; Radio (right): Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration
This artist’s impression depicts the black hole at the heart of the enormous elliptical galaxy M87. This black hole was chosen as the object of paradigm-shifting observations by the Event Horizon Telescope. The superheated material surrounding the black hole is shown, as is the relativistic jet launched by M87’s black hole. Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser

This artist’s impression of the environment around a black hole shows the accretion disk of superheated plasma and a relativistic jet. The video also depicts the paths of photons in the vicinity of a black hole, and how the Event Horizon Telescope array captured the light from the gravitational bending by the event horizon. Credit: Nicolle R. Fuller/NSF

In this infographic, an artist depicts a rapidly spinning supermassive black hole surrounded by an accretion disk. The thin disk of rotating material consists of the leftovers of a sun-like star which was ripped apart by the forces of the black hole. The black hole is labelled, showing the anatomy of this fascinating object. Click on the image for a high-resolution version. Credit: ESO

Further Reading

  • Read the papers about M87 and the black hole image at The Astrophysical Journal Letters
  • See the image and read about the background of the Event Horizon Telescope project in Science Friday’s breaking news story.
  • Find out what experimentalists and theorists want to investigate next with the EHT data on Science Friday.
  • Listen to a 2016 Science Friday interview with Shep Doeleman and Priyamvada Natarajan about imaging black holes.
  • Learn more about the Event Horizon Telescope project.
  • Want to learn more about black holes? Take the plunge down past Science Friday coverage. 

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Segment Guests

Shep Doeleman

Shep Doeleman is director of the Event Horizon Telescope Project and an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Feryal Ozel

Feryal Ozel is an Event Horizon Telescope study author. She’s also a professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona.

Julie Hlavacek-Larrondo

Julie Hlavacek-Larrondo is an assistant professor of Physics and Canada Research Chair at the Université de Montréal in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

Meet the Producers and Host

About Katie Feather

Katie Feather is an associate producer for Science Friday and the proud mother of two cats, Charleigh and Sadie.

About Ira Flatow

Ira Flatow is the host and executive producer of Science Friday. His green thumb has revived many an office plant at death’s door.

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