Mankind has now something it has never seen before: an image of "the most mysterious objects in the universe"—the black hole. On Wednesday, six simultaneous press conferences were held around the globe, in Washington, Brussels, Santiago, Shanghai, Taipei, and Tokyo, reports Reuters. There, researchers shared the first result of the Event Horizon Telescope project, which in 2017 swiveled a network of radio telescopes worldwide to focus on the center of the galaxy Messier 87, or M87. "We now have visual evidence for a black hole," they announced. Per a tweet from the Event Horizon 'Scope, "The image shows a bright ring formed as light bends in the intense gravity around a black hole that is 6.5 billion times more massive than the Sun."
- More numbers: Per a press release, a black hole's shadow is created by "the gravitational bending and capture of light by the event horizon," the region around a black hole from which nothing, including light, can escape. "The shadow of a black hole is the closest we can come to an image of the black hole itself, a completely dark object." In this case, "the black hole’s boundary—the event horizon from which the EHT takes its name—is around 2.5 times smaller than the shadow it casts and measures just under 40 billion km across."
- Wild similes: NPR says trying to view it by looking into the night sky from our planet would be like trying to spot a mustard seed in Washington, DC, from Brussels. The AFP likens it to taking a picture of a pebble on the moon from Earth.
- The observations: The telescope array known as the Event Horizon Telescope saw radio observatories on six mountains across four continents study M87 over a 10-day period in April 2017. The New York Times reports they captured so much data—5,000 trillion bytes, reports CNN—that it couldn't be sent over the internet and instead had to be transported on disks. Due to weather, the data from Antarctica couldn't be flown out until December 2017.
- More on the challenges: The Washington Post reports those hard drives from the South Pole had to be defrosted upon their arrival at MIT. And then there's this detail: Astronomers "donned oxygen tanks and climbed three-mile-high mountains to escape the interference of Earth's atmosphere."
- About Einstein: A beautiful explainer from the Times: "The image offered a final, ringing affirmation of an idea so disturbing that even Einstein, from whose equations black holes emerged, was loath to accept it. If too much matter is crammed into one place, the cumulative force of gravity becomes overwhelming, and the place becomes an eternal trap, a black hole. Here, according to Einstein’s theory, matter, space, and time come to an end and vanish like a dream."
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