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Seeing the unseeable: the impact and legacy of the first black-hole images

12 Apr 2019, 14:51 UTC
Seeing the unseeable: the impact and legacy of the first black-hole images
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For the last two decades, we’ve been living through a “golden age” in astronomy. We’ve mapped fluctuations in the cosmic microwave background, spotted thousands of extrasolar planets and measured the accelerating expansion of the universe. And then, in 2016, gravitational waves were detected for the first time, opening an entire new window on the cosmos, including the sight of colliding black holes and neutron stars.
But those breakthroughs have been matched – and possibly even eclipsed – by the first-ever image of a black hole, which were released earlier this week.
Likened by some to the eye of Sauron from Lord of the Rings, this instantly iconic image – which will grace the cover of the May 2019 issue of Physics World magazine – shows the glowing disc of hot matter surrounding the event horizon of the supermassive black hole M87* at the heart of the Messier 87 galaxy. The dark region at the centre is the “shadow” of the black hole, roughly three times larger than the (invisible) event horizon. Predicted by general relativity, the shadow is significant as it’s a feature of the horizon, while its size and shape gives clues to the mass and spin of the ...

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