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First Ever Image Of A Black Hole

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In a historic first, astronomers captured the image of a black hole, which is located at the heart of a distant galaxy.

The black hole, which measures 40 billion kilometers across, and three million times the size of the Earth, was found in a galaxy called Messier 87, located more than 53 million light-years from Earth. It has a mass 6.5 billion times that of the sun.

Black holes are extreme cosmic objects, containing incredible amounts of mass within a tiny region. The presence of these objects affects its surroundings in extreme ways, warping spacetime and heating any surrounding material until it glows. General relativity predicts that this superheated material will "illuminate" the strongly warped region of spacetime — leading to a dark shadow.

The first direct visual evidence of a black hole, something previously thought to be invisible, was revealed by researchers at a number of worldwide press conferences Wednesday.

The scientists behind it, from the Max-Planck-Institute for Radioastronomie (MPIfR) in Bonn, Germany, and the Institut de Radioastronomie Millimétrique (IRAM) in France, spent a decade using a network of eight telescopes across the world to photograph the historic image.

The image was created using radio astronomy. Most radio astronomy is done using large dishes that capture radio waves hitting Earth. But creating an image of the black hole required a telescope the size of earth, named the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT).

The Telescope combined measurements from radio observatories on four continents - North America, South America, Europe, and Antarctica.

"The results of the EHT observations give us for the first time a direct view on a supermassive black hole and they mark an important milestone for our understanding of the fundamental processes that determine the formation and evolution of galaxies," said Anton Zensus, Director at the MPIfR and Chair of the EHT Collaboration Board.

The reveal of the image is a huge milestone for the study of black holes.

"While we confirmed the existence of black holes and studied their properties in so many ways, nothing beats a direct observation," University of Southern California professor Clifford Johnson told MIT Technology Review.

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