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Published the first ever true photograph of the shadow of a black hole

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Immediately in several press centers in the world, presentations were made of the results of the work of the Event Horizon Telescope project – a virtual radio telescope the size of Earth. For the first time in history, scientists have shown the first real images of the so-called black hole shadow in the center of the super-giant galaxy Messier 87 (M87). One of these presentations was held at the National Press Center in Washington, DC, where Shep Doleman, the head of the Event Horizon Telescope project, showed images of the object.

“We were able to see what no one has ever managed before,” commented Doulman, who spoke at a historic event in the US capital.

“I never believed that the black hole in the galaxy M87 is so large as our calculations showed. When I saw this photo, I personally became convinced of this. The ring of fire that can be seen in this picture is generated by the enormous gravitational force of this object, ”Heino Falke from the University of Nijmegen (Netherlands), one of the participants in the Event Horizon Telescope project, told a press conference at the headquarters of the European Commission in Brussels.

Most modern astronomers believe that in the center of all galaxies are supermassive black holes – objects with a mass of millions and billions of solar, continuously attracting and absorbing any matter, part of which is “chewed” by a black hole and ejected in the form of relativistic jets (jets) – thin plasma beams accelerated to near-light speeds.

In our galaxy, as well as in a number of others, this central black hole is in an inactive state — it does not emit jets. Scientists have long been trying to figure out when she “fell asleep” and how active she was in the past. In addition, astrophysicists would like to know how this activity affected the life of stars in the center of our galaxy and its surroundings.

They are trying to solve the riddle with the help of a giant virtual interferometer Event Horizon Telescope – a network of highly sensitive radio observatories interconnected in different locations of our planet, including the South Pole of the Earth. His training began more than 10 years ago.

Radio astronomy observatories that participated in the Event Horizon Telescope project

Combining the power of telescopes allowed scientists to achieve a resolution exceeding the sensitivity of the Hubble Space Telescope a thousand times and to obtain the first data on the nearest vicinity of the central black hole of the M87 galaxy located in the Virgo constellation. The object has a mass of 6.5 billion solar and is located about 53.5 million light years from us. In the course of the work, scientists also began to study the structure of those areas of the black hole, where jets are born and the associated emissions of radio emission. The resulting images and data were published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

The general theory of relativity (GTR) predicts that the shadow of a black hole should look like a dark circle surrounded by a crescent of bright light. Not all scientists agreed with such a prediction, but the observations of Event Horizons Telescope could point out the skeptics being wrong – Einstein's predictions were fully confirmed, which you can see by looking at the picture.

From left to right: a real image of the black hole of the galaxy M87, taken by the Event Horizons telescope on April 6, 2017; computer model of a black hole; computer model with a resolution adapted to an Event Horizon telescope

Project participants report that sources of electromagnetic waves surrounding a black hole have an asymmetric structure. Previously, many theorists believed that the entire accretion disk (a bagel from the "chewed" matter) is involved in the birth of jets and beams of radio emission.

At the moment, the resolution of the Event Horizon telescope does not allow to find out the exact shape of the active region of a black hole and at what speed it rotates. According to current assumptions, it may look like either an irregular ring rotating clockwise or a kind of skewed “dumbbell” with a black hole in the center.

One of the alleged models of the neighborhood of the black hole, created by experts at the University of Arizona

The researchers hope that analyzing the data received by the Event Horizons last year will help you understand which of these two assumptions is closer to the truth, and also tells you whether the shape of this “donut” or “dumbbell” changes over time. In the end, scientists plan to solve the main mystery of black holes – how do jets appear and why are they thrown into space at near-light speed.

For more information about the history of the creation of the first real image of a black hole, you can read here.

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