The image of the century obtained from radio telescopes scattered all over the world is a “Decisive step to reveal the secrets of the most intriguing object of the cosmos”.

Here is the picture that changes science. Now we see the first image of a black hole, the gigantic eddy of matter that attracts everything and with its colossal force of gravity it holds back even the light. And that’s why it’s black.

Black hole
After gravitational waves demonstrated the existence of black holes in 2016, the first direct proof came with this photo

It is an extraordinary success of science and technology. What you see is the dark sphere, surrounded by a red ring of gas at very high temperature that falls towards the whirlpool. It is a cosmic monster with a mass corresponding to over four billion stars like the Sun, located at the center of the Messier 87 (M87) galaxy, in the Virgo cluster, 55 million light years away.

It is not exactly a photo like the one we can take, for example, to the Moon or to other celestial bodies near us: meanwhile, because we see the black hole of M87 not as it is now, but as it was 55 million years ago, it is worth to say the time that has brought its light to reach us, and then because the image is composite. It is in fact the result of an international collaboration and a huge sum of data. Moreover, it is always like this when observing objects in deep space: it is never like photographing objects in a shop window.

This unprecedented photo is the result of the international project known as Event Horizon Telescope (Eht), in which Italy participates with the INF, the National Institute of Astrophysics, and Infn, the National Institute of Nuclear Physics. Eight radio telescopes scattered around the world have been aimed at together, to constitute the equivalent of a single virtual telescope. It took years of observations and € 14 million in funding from the European Research Council, the ERC.

Katie Bouman the 29 year old woman behind the first black hole image.
Katie Bouman the 29 year old woman behind the first black hole image.

The result has been around the world in just a few minutes. Published in a special issue of the journal “Astrophysical Journal Letters”, it was announced in six press conferences in Europe, USA, Chile, China and Japan. “Today the first page of an incredible book opens, in which it is possible to make ever more accurate observations of these objects provided by Albert Einstein a century ago”, says Luciano Rezzolla, director of the Institute of theoretical physics in Frankfurt and member of the committee scientist who took the picture and the theoretical analysis of the results.

Observing black holes means looking directly at matter in extreme conditions, like those of the Big Bang from which the Universe originated, and will help us understand the nature of the fundamental forces that govern the cosmos.