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A pioneering group of astronomers have just unveiled the first ever close up pictures of a black hole.
Described as a major breakthrough in our understanding of the universe, this image was captured by a global network of scientists who make up the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) team.
The EHT project was first launched as of April 2017, with the team having spent the past two years acquiring and processing data obtained from eight radio telescopes from across the globe.
These telescopes had been focused on two black holes, one at the heart of our Milky Way galaxy – known as Sagittarius A (SgrA) – and another – known as M87 – which is almost 54 million light years away.
The images of course do not show a black hole itself as any light which would make it visible would be swallowed. We can however see the event horizon around the brink of the hole, something scientists have been trying to do for years.
Located 26,000 light years away from planet earth, SgrA is thought to measure over 22 million kilometres in width. Meanwhile, M87 shoots out a notably fast jet consisting of charged subatomic particles, stretching for approximately 5,000 light years.
Astrophysicist at the European Space Agency, Dr Paul McNamara, told AFP about how scientists came to confirm the existence of black holes half a century ago:
More than 50 years ago, scientists saw there was something very bright at the centre of our galaxy.
Dr McNamara proceeded to explain how scientists realised this bright presence also had a ‘gravitational pull strong enough to make stars orbit around it very quickly – as fast as 20 years’.
After further investigation, scientists came to understand that the object itself was not bright and was in fact completely black. Indeed, the brightness came from gas and plasma located around the edge of the structure, which we now know to be a black hole.
Going forward, it is hoped this latest development will help to draw connections between Einstein’s theory of general relativity and quantum mechanics.
Einstein’s theory of general relativity concerns laws of nature on cosmic scales, while quantum mechanics is in regard to subatomic particles where there is the possibility of being in more than one place at once. These two bodies of thought have previously been considered to be fundamentally opposed.
Physicist Lia Medeiros told ScienceNews:
General relativity as it is and quantum mechanics as it is are incompatible with each other.
Rock, hard place. Something has to give.
What a fascinating and important step forward. Many congratulations to team EHT on their hard work paying off!
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