Brian Greene on the first-ever image of a black hole from the Event Horizon Telescope


An utterly, wonderous achievement. Astronomers using the Event Horizon Telescope
have taken the first ever photograph of a black hole. Here’s the story, about a hundred years ago,
Albert Einstein gave us a new description of the force of gravity in which gravity exerts
its influence through warps and curves in the fabric of space and time. Just a couple of years later, Karl Schwarzschild,
he was a German astronomer who was stationed on the Russian front during World War I in
charge of calculating artillery trajectories, he somehow gets ahold of Einstein’s manuscript
and realizes something amazing. If you take a spherical object and squeeze
it down to sufficiently small size, according to Einstein’s math the gravitational pull
will be so enormous that nothing will be able to escape. Not even light, and that is what we mean by
a black hole. Now, when Einstein caught wind of these results,
he didn’t believe it. He didn’t think these objects would actually
be out there in the universe, and yet in the ensuing decades, theoretical developments
began to mount showing that black holes were the inevitable outcome of massive stars that
had used up their nuclear fuel, undergone a supernova explosion and the resulting core
would have no ability to withstand the pull of gravity when it collapsed down into a black
hole. And the observational cases also began to
mount studies of the center of our Milky Way galaxy showed stars whipping around the center
at such an enormous speed that the only explanation for the object that could exert the powerful
gravity responsible for that motion would be a very massive black hole, perhaps four
million times the mass of the sun. And perhaps the most compelling convincing
observational evidence to date actually comes from gravitational waves. When we received the first ripples in the
fabric of space back in 2015, the only explanation for the pattern of those waves was two black
holes, very distant, that collided, setting off a tidal wave in space that we were able
to detect. Now, even with the mounting theoretical and
observational evidence, we never directly seen a black hole itself. And that is what now has changed. Using eight radio telescopes from around the
world, the Event Horizon Telescope, the name of this consortium, has now taken the first
ever snapshot of a black hole itself. And here it is. The image provides the first direct test of
Einstein’s theory and the strong gravitational field of a black hole, and as far as we can
tell Einstein was once again comes through with flying colors. And in many ways, this image really is an
emblem of the power of the human intellect to explore, to discover, and understand the
cosmos.

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