Well … humanity has seen one of these cosmic beasts
“We have seen what we thought was unseeable,” Sheperd Doeleman, of Harvard University and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said today (April 10) during a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.
Doeleman directs the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) project, which captured the epic imagery. These photos, which were unveiled today at press events around the world and published papers too, the monster black hole lurking at the heart of the elliptical galaxy M87.
The imagery is mind-blowing enough in its own right. But even more significant is the trail the new results will likely blaze, researchers said.
“There’s really a new field to explore,” Peter Galison, a professor of physics and the history of science at Harvard, said in an EHT talk last month at the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival in Austin, Texas. “And that’s ultimately what’s so exciting about this.”
Galison, who co-founded Harvard’s interdisciplinary Black Hole Initiative (BHI), compared the imagery’s potential impact to that of the drawings made by English scientist Robert Hooke in the 1600s. These illustrations showed people what insects and plants look like through a microscope.
“It opened a world,” Galison said of Hooke’s work.
SO … Albert Einstein is a genius ….
The image on the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) project shows today (April 10), further bolster Einstein’s century theory, researchers said.
“Today, general relativity has passed another crucial test, this one spanning from horizons to the stars,” EHT team member Avery Broderick, of the University of Waterloo and the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Canada, said during a news conference today at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.
So this describes gravity as a consequence of the warping of space-time. Massive objects create a sort or well in the cosmic fabric, which passing bodies fall into because they’re following curved contours (not as a result of some mysterious force at a distance, which had been the prevailing view before Einstein came along).
General relativity makes specific predictions about how this warping works. For example, the theory posits that black holes exist and that each of these gravitational monsters has an event horizon — a point of no return beyond which nothing, not even light, can escape. Further, the event horizon should be roughly circular and of a predictable size, which depends on the black hole’s mass.
And that’s just what we see in the newly unveiled EHT images, which show the silhouette of the supermassive black hole at the heart of M87, a giant elliptical galaxy that lies 55 million light-years from Earth.
“The shadow exists, is nearly circular and the inferred mass matches estimates due to the dynamics of stars 100,000 times farther away,” Broderick said.
That mass, by the way, is 6.5 billion times that of Earth’s sun. That’s huge even by supermassive-black-hole standards; for comparison, the behemoth at the heart of our Milky Way galaxy weighs in at a mere 4.3 million solar masses.
Holes weren’t the super-massive type; combined, they contained just a few dozen solar masses.)
So, it’s not exactly a surprise that Einstein was right about event horizons as well. But confirming that general relativity holds in a hitherto unstudied realm has great value, EHT team members said.
EHT’s work “has verified Einstein’s theories of gravity in this most extreme laboratory,” EHT director Sheperd Doeleman, of Harvard University and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said during today’s press conference.