What’s News: What might we learn from imaging a black hole?

Mr C Dodd – Staff Editor

What might we learn from imaging a black hole?

In a famous moment for astronomy, an image of a black hole has been captured for the very first time. The picture shows the halo of dust and gas surrounding the black hole lying at the heart of the Messier 87 galaxy, 55 million light years away from Earth. Black holes are notoriously complex and much about them remains a mystery, and yet scientists from around the globe used the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) network to produce the image that may further our understanding of the universe.

As one of over 200 scientists collaborating on the project, the young computer scientist Katie Bouman has received particular attention in the media. Formerly a PhD student at MIT, Bouman wrote some of the algorithms required to process the huge amounts of data generated by the EHT. In 2017, over two years before the image was ready for publication, Bouman delivered a fascinating TEDx Talk outlining exactly how it was done. It is a remarkable achievement that required considerable time, effort and money, but what might we now learn from both the process and product of this extraordinary enterprise? CPD

The black hole at the heart of the Messier 87 (M87) galaxy. (European Southern Observatory)

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