Some may not be impressed by the slight blurriness of the image. But there’s so much more to it than what immediately meets the eye. Two astrophysicists — Sheperd Doeleman, the project leader of the Event Horizon Telescope, and Katie Mack of North Carolina State University, who was not involved with the effort — walked me through a few of the coolest aspects of the image that helped me appreciate just wonderfully mind-blowing it is.
Imaging a supermassive black hole takes a massive amount of funding; the EHT program lists its "key funders" as the United States' National Science Foundation, the European Union's European Research Council, and funding agencies in East Asia. According to a statement from the European Commission, the ERC funded three of the leading scientists and their teams. It's also the primary sponsor of the $15.7 million BlackHoleCam project, whose investigators partnered with the EHT team to measure and finally capture the M87's black hole.
A project called the Event Horizon Telescope delivered a fuzzy view of the dark monster at the center of an elliptical galaxy known as M87. The edge of the black hole’s dark circle, known as the event horizon, was surrounded by the bright glare of superheated material falling into the black hole.
The light that makes up the image is not coming from the black hole – black holes do not emit any light, hence the name. Instead, the image shows the black hole’s silhouette against a background of hot, glowing matter that is being inexorably pulled in by its powerful gravity.
We have peered into the abyss for the very first time. The Event Horizon Telescope (EHT), which uses a network of telescopes around the globe to turn all of Earth into an enormous radio telescope, has taken the first direct image of a black hole.
Need a kick-start? You would be hard-pressed to find one more powerful than a supernova – a sudden explosion in which a dying star ejects most of its mass. That is what happened to the pulsar pictured here, sending it racing away from its home with a tail of particles and magnetic energy stretching behind it for 13 light years.
The $8.9 billion James Webb Space Telescope may be the last big-budget observatory that NASA launches for a while. The White House’s proposed 2020 budget cancels the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), a $3.2 billion space mission viewed as a linchpin of astrophysics research through the 2020s and beyond.
If someone asks you what planet is closest to Earth, you’ll probably blurt out Venus. That’s a perfectly normal thing to say, but it’s also wrong. Numerous websites and even NASA itself say Venus is our closest planetary neighbor. A new article in Physics Today lays out a more accurate way to determine which planets are closest together. It turns out the averages are highly counterintuitive. Mercury is the closest planet to Earth -- in fact, it’s the closest planet to every other planet.
Two new academic papers, one published in The Astronomical Journal and the other in Physics Reports, present new evidence that a large, as yet undiscovered planet is lurking in the outer solar system. Both papers coincide with the three-year anniversary of an announcement by astronomers Michael Brown and Konstantin Batygin, both of Caltech, of their theory that a large, distant planet is responsible for the unique clustering of several Kuiper Belt Objects (KBOs) far beyond Neptune and Pluto. Specifically, these KBOs are in orbits perpendicular to the plane of the solar system.
Our image of the outer solar system in decades past was much simpler than it is today. Pluto was the ninth planet, and that was the end of it except for some scattered asteroids and comets. Now, science doesn’t consider Pluto a planet, but some believe there’s a still-undiscovered ninth planet out there tweaking the orbit of small planetoids.