Scientists set to release first-ever image of black hole

EMBARGOED UNTIL 11PM WEDNESDAY 10 APRIL 2019 (AEST); 9AM WEDNESDAY 10 APRIL (EDT)

The Event Horizon Telescope project is expected to release the first-ever image of a black hole on at 11pm tonight (AEST).

Scientists at The Australian National University (ANU) will be available to talk to journalists about the significance of this scientific breakthrough. Their initial commentary on the event and contact details provided are below. These scientists are not involved in the Event Horizon Telescope project.

The Event Horizon Telescope project aims to capture an image of a black hole. The telescope has set its sights on two supermassive black holes, one in the centre of the galaxy Messier 87 and the other in our Milky Way.

Supermassive black holes have masses ranging from millions to billions of solar masses and appear to be in the centre of almost all galaxies. Although black holes themselves are invisible, supermassive black holes can appear as bright stars due to light emitted by the hot turbulent gas in the swirling disk of accreting material falling into them. With the extraordinary resolution of the Earth-spanning Event Horizon Telescope the outer limit of these black holes (their ‘event horizons’) can also be seen in silhouette against background light sources.

The ANU experts below can contacted directly, or through the ANU media hotline on +61 2 6125 7979.

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Dr Christian Wolf
Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics
ANU College of Science
T: +61 2 61256373
M: +61 415 330 371

“The only black holes anyone has seen so far have been works of fiction. We have watched movie heroes battle with the immense gravitational attraction of giant black holes, but what do these black holes really look like?

“With my team, I am hunting for black holes that grow and these are ablaze with light. But most black holes in the Universe are dormant, such as the one at the centre of our own Milky Way galaxy. All we can hope to see is their shadow in the darkness of space – that strikes me as one of the hardest pictures to take, ever.

“The Event Horizon Telescope team have worked for years to construct a picture of these two black holes, which are the two easiest ones to image. I very much hope this is only the beginning, because there are billions of giant black holes out there, one in the centre of every galaxy.”
 

Professor Matthew Colless
Director, Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics
ANU College of Science
T: +61 2 6125 0266
M: +61 431 898 345
E: matthew.colless@anu.edu.au

“This image is going to be the most visually direct image of a black hole so far. There’s been a long-standing challenge to capture an image of a black hole’s immediate surroundings – the region around its event horizon, from inside which no light or other electromagnetic radiation can escape.

“What we will see is the absence of background radiation where the supermassive black hole is and a ring of light around it caused by stars and gas falling into the black hole and creating huge amounts of friction and heat. Depending on how sharp this image will be, the detail of the black hole’s shape and the distortions of gravity it produces could offer a test of Albert Einstein’s theory of General Relativity.

“This theory, one of the most extraordinary scientific achievements of the 20th century, explains that the force of gravity arises from the curvature of space and time. This new black hole image could confirm whether Einstein was right or whether we need to revisit this theory.

“The Event Horizon Telescope is working at a radio wavelength of 1.3mm, a very short wavelength in the context of radio astronomy. The shorter the wavelength, the sharper the image, so we can hope to see very fine detail in this first-ever image of a black hole.”


Dr Brad Tucker
Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics
ANU College of Science
T: +61 2 6125 6711
M: +61 433 905 777
E: brad.tucker@anu.edu.au

“Black holes are some of the most fascinating objects in the Universe. In the past few years, we’ve made great progress in understanding these objects. And today we make another big leap – being able to see the effects of a black hole.

“The direct image of the event horizon is amazing. It allows us to directly measure how black holes affect gravity and time. I never thought we would be able to see something that has been so mysterious.”


Professor Geoff Bicknell

Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics
ANU College of Science
T: +61 2 6125 9088
M: +61 402 302 802
E: geoff.bicknell@anu.edu.au

“The observations with the Event Horizon Telescope may provide crucial information on the way in which the interactions of black holes with surrounding matter produce energy. This is relevant to all black holes in the Universe.

“The observations may also tell us the way in which jets moving close to the speed of light are accelerated away from the black hole, as well as improving our understanding of the composition of plasma which is ejected from the black hole environs.”

For media assistance, contact the ANU media team on +612 6125 7979 or at media@anu.edu.au

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