By Fatima Kane
On Wednesday, April 10, 2019, a team of more than 200 researchers and scientists in a decade-long mission finally shared their results in the The Astrophysical Journal Letters of capturing a photograph of a black hole 55 million light years away in the galaxy Messier 87. In doing so, the team enticed everyone to the never-seen-before, much-speculated, mystical sight of the black hole recently named “Powehi” – a fitting Hawaiian expression meaning “embellished dark source of unending creation”. Hundreds of international astronomers made the (previously-thought) impossible, possible by connecting 8 uber-powerful radio telescopes, called Event Horizon Telescope, to get a glimpse of the bright orange-red “ring of fire” or the intensely hot gas swirling around a perfectly-circular abyss. According to the National Science Foundation, the telescopes needed to be able to capture the same level of detail as being able to see the date on a quarter from Los Angeles, California, to Washington, D.C. Additionally, the telescopes compiled roughly 5,000 trillion bytes of data over a 2-week period, the data then being processed through supercomputers to retrieve this groundbreaking image of first-ever black hole to be seen by man.
(Left : A stunning zoomed-out image of the black hole taken in NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory)
(An even more zoomed-out picture of the black hole also taken in NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory)
These photographs of black hole, Powehi, have marked tremendous scientific achievements and are extraordinary in all aspects. For example, it’s currently presumed to be one of the heaviest of black holes to exist with a mass estimated to be 6.5 billion times the Sun’s mass, accompanied by an unbelievably enormous size of 40 billion km across, 3 million times the size of the Earth, and larger than the size of our entire Solar System. Or even how the light from the orange-red halo is brighter than the billions of other stars in the galaxy; combined. This incredible mission which exposed a part of our universe we had never seen before, was groundbreaking in a countless number of ways, and, fortunately, according to the amazing scientists who accomplished this great feat, it’s just the beginning.
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