The First Image of a Black Hole

      By Philip Antonopoulos and Chris Galanis


One of the concepts that intrigued the scientific community since its theorisation was the black hole. Black Holes were first coined by an English cleric and amateur scientist named John Michell, who saw the possibility of the existence of a black hole through Newton’s laws of gravitation. Later, Louise Webster and Paul Murdin at the Royal Greenwich Observatory identified the first black hole, Cygnus X-1.

But what is a black hole? A black hole, to our latest knowledge, can either be formed by the gravitational collapse of a star or from high-energy collisions. Gravitational collapse is when a star’s fuel runs out and it cannot maintain its mass, causing it to collapse into itself to form a singularity, a point where density is infinite. By the same process, if two particles of Planck mass, the fundamental mass that cannot be divided anymore, collide with each other at extremely high speeds, they form black holes. Black Holes are regions of spacetime that have such gravity as  not to let anything get away – not even light itself.


The project was the idea of a Ph.D. student, Prof Falcke, in 1993. No-one believed that the ideα was achievable. But he realized that the specific radio emissions of the black hole could be detected by telescopes on earth.

After 20 years, Prof. Falcke persuaded the European Research Council to fund the project. The total cost of the project was over 40 million pounds.



One telescope was never enough to capture the image of the black hole. Therefore, eight telescopes, located over the earth, constructed a huge network. There were three in the USA, two in Europe, one near Hawaii, one in South America and one at the South Pole. All telescopes sent the information to the central processing centres, located in the USA and in Germany.


The team has already set their next goal, the supermassive black hole at the centre of our galaxy! This will be far more difficult, not because of the distance of it, but because of an unknown reason, the light ring around the black hole is getting slimmer and darker.



BBC News