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If too much matter is crammed into one place, the cumulative force of gravity becomes overwhelming, and the place becomes an eternal trap. On Wednesday morning that dark vision became a visceral reality. The results were announced simultaneously at news conferences in Washington, D.

When the image was put up on the screen in Washington, cheers and gasps, followed by applause, broke out in the room and throughout a universe of astrofans following the live-streamed event. Priyamvada Natarajan, an astrophysicist at Yale, said that Einstein must be delighted. There can be no doubt this really is a black hole at the center of M87, with no signs of deviations from general relativity.


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The image emerged from two years of computer analysis of observations from a network of radio antennas called the Event Horizon Telescope. In all, eight radio observatories on six mountains and four continents observed the galaxy in Virgo on and off for 10 days in April There, 26, light-years from Earth, and cloaked in interstellar dust and gas, lurks another black hole, with a mass of 4.

The mystery of black holes has tantalized astronomers for more than half a century. In the s, astronomers with radio telescopes discovered that pearly, seemingly peaceful galaxies were spewing radio energy from their cores — far more energy than would be produced by the ordinary thermonuclear engines that make stars shine.

Perhaps, astrophysicists thought, the energy was being liberated by matter falling onto supermassive, dense objects — later called black holes. Since then, scientists have devised detailed models of how this would work. As hot, dense gas swirls around the black hole, like water headed down a drain, the intense pressures and magnetic fields cause energy to squirt out the side. As a paradoxical result, supermassive black holes can be the most luminous objects in the universe.

The images released today bolster the notion of violence perpetrated over cosmic scales, said Sera Markoff, an astrophysicist at the University of Amsterdam, and a member of the Event Horizon team.

Comparing the numbers

The unveiling today took place almost exactly a century after images of stars askew in the heavens made Einstein famous and confirmed his theory of general relativity as the law of the cosmos. That theory ascribes gravity to the warping of space and time by matter and energy, much as a mattress sags under a sleeper.

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General relativity led to a new conception of the cosmos, in which space-time could quiver, bend, rip, expand, swirl like a mix-master and even disappear forever into the maw of a black hole. He disliked that idea, but the consensus today is that the universe is speckled with black holes furiously consuming everything around them.

A planet-sized network of radio telescopes has assembled the first image of a black hole. Many are the gravitational tombstones of stars that burned up their fuel and collapsed. But others, hidden in the center of nearly every galaxy, are millions or billions of times more massive than the sun. Nobody knows how such behemoths of nothingness could have been assembled. Dense wrinkles in the primordial energies of the Big Bang? Monster runaway stars that collapsed and swallowed up their surroundings in the dawning years of the universe?

Any lingering doubts about the reality of black holes dissolved three years ago when the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, or LIGO, detected the collision of a pair of distant black holes, which sent a shiver through the fabric of space-time. Now the reality has a face.

Still, questions about gravity and the universe abound.

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Proving that the monsters in Virgo and the center of the Milky Way were really black holes required measuring the sizes of their shadows. That was no easy job. Both look exceedingly small from this distance, and resolving their tiny details would be a challenge for even the biggest individual telescope. Moreover, the view is blurred by the charged particles such as electrons and protons that fill interstellar space.

Doeleman, director of the Event Horizon Telescope.


  1. Black and White Photography?
  2. A telescope the size of Earth?
  3. Crossing the streams!
  4. To see into the shadows, astronomers needed to be able to tune their radio telescope to shorter wavelengths. And they needed a bigger telescope. Enter the Event Horizon Telescope, the dream child of Dr.

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    He is one of the leaders in the discipline of long exposure photography I interviewed him myself as a case study in my book Slow. In the interview Joel talks about photos representing the vision, or the essence, of the artist rather than reality. Black and white, in addition to being a beautiful medium in its own right he uses words like mysterious, nostalgic and dramatic to explain its appeal is a step removed from reality.

    Add in changes in tonal values achieved in post-processing, the surreality of long exposure photography techniques and the manipulation of light also in post-processing and you finish with a photo or a work of art, depending on your world view that is an expression of the artist, rather than the original subject. Make sense? There are many ways of expressing yourself creatively in photography, and black and white is just one of them, but it certainly is a powerful medium.

    Trends come and go. But black and white will endure. Hengki is an Indonesian photographer who creates beautiful black and white landscapes read my interview with him here.