The 2020 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics has been given to members of the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) collaboration for obtaining “the first image of a supermassive black hole, taken by means of an Earth-sized alliance of telescopes”. The $3m prize will be shared equally by all 347 authors of six papers that announced the image on 10 April 2019.
The image is a close-up of the region surrounding a supermassive black hole that lies at the centre of the Messier 87 galaxy, which is about 55 million light-years away. Although black holes are inherently invisible, the EHT team obtained the image near the point where matter and energy can no longer escape – the so-called event horizon.
A key feature of the image is a ring-like structure of radiation from the object’s accretion disc. The dark region at the centre of the disc is consistent with expectations for the shadow of a Kerr black hole – one that is uncharged and rotates about a central axis – as predicted by Einstein’s general theory of relativity.
The prize will be accepted by collaboration director Shep Doeleman at a ceremony on 3 November at the NASA Ames Research Center in California.