The breakthrough was announced by the EHT Consortium today in a series of six papers published in a special issue of The Astrophysical Journal Letters. According to the official announcement, the image reveals the black hole at the centre of Messier 87, a massive galaxy in the nearby Virgo galaxy cluster. This black hole resides 55 million light-years from Earth and has a mass 6.5-billion times that of the Sun.
The EHT links telescopes around the globe to form an Earth-sized virtual telescope, using the same technique as the African Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI) Network, but at much higher frequency, enabling an even sharper view of black holes. The EHT is the result of years of international collaboration and offers scientists an unprecedented view of supermassive black holes, which are of the most extreme objects in the Universe. Supermassive black holes are a prediction of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity theory and this first image of the black hole shadow has been announced during the centennial year of the historic experiment that first confirmed his theory.
The EHT collaboration involves more than 200 researchers from Africa, Asia, Europe, and North and South America. This includes Professor Roger Deane from the Department of Physics at the University of Pretoria, as well as his post-doctoral fellow, Dr Iniyan Natarajan, from the Department of Physics and Electronics at Rhodes University in Makhanda. Their contribution was to build a highly realistic simulation of this Earth-sized instrument that enables astronomers to better understand real observations, discriminate between theoretical black hole models, and provide insights into the characteristics of the telescope itself.
Prof. Deane and Dr Natarajan’s contribution is supported by the University of Pretoria, as well as by a grant awarded to Rhodes University, which is funded by the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and the National Research Foundation (NRF) through SARAO’s Human Capacity Development Programme.