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 left is a speckled orange galaxy of m87. to the right of its bright center is a stream of light, indicating the jet. on the right is the original image of the black hole take by eht. it has a soft orange ring around a shadow
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.

a radio dish out in the middle of a foresty mountain side covered in snow under a clear blue day
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
the galaxy of m87 which looks like a speckled orange on a black background. superimposed on the left is a close up of the galaxy's core showing the jet of light
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
an animation of an artist impression of a swirling black hole that is an orange red color. there are two jets streaming vertically from the center of the black hole, which is the brightest point in the figure
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

an infographic of the anatomy of a black hole. a thin stream of light coming vertically from the center of the black hole is the relativistic jet. the event horizon is labeled as the thin line around the center of the black hole, or singularity. the innermost stable orbit is colored orange immediately around the event horizon. the photon sphere comes next. and then the accretion disk flows outward
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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