(Yicai Global) April 11 -- Chinese astronomers have made contributions to a global effort to take the first-ever image of a supermassive black hole at the heart of a distant galaxy called M87.
The photo, captured by a network of eight linked telescopes called the Event Horizon Telescope, was unveiled yesterday, state-backed Xinhua News Agency reported.
The experiment required years of work from more than 200 scientists, including 16 Chinese ones, who helped with data collection at high-altitude sites such as volcanoes in Hawaii and mountains in Spain's Sierra Nevada, as well as data analysis.
The black hole is located about 55 million light-years from Earth, with a mass 6.5 billion times that of the Sun.
"This is the first direct visual evidence about black holes obtained by humans, confirming that Einstein's theory of general relativity still holds in extreme conditions," said Shen Zhiqiang, head of Shanghai Astronomical Observatory.
Black holes are cosmic objects that carry an enormous mass but are extremely small, and they produce a gravitational force that even light cannot escape from. Albert Einstein's theory of general relativity predicted the existence of these regions of spacetime almost a century ago, and scientists say that they power some of the most extreme phenomena in the universe.
"The dark area and the ring of the black hole have opened a window for us to reconstruct its process of gobbling surrounding material and understand the strange events during this process better in the future," said Lu Rusen, a researcher with the SAO.
The successful project is just the beginning of collaboration on the EHT, said Shen, adding that more "exciting results" are expected to follow in near future.
It took about two years to develop the photo, partly because the amount of data from a five-day collection effort amounted to an equivalent of streaming almost 2 million hours of high-definition movies.
"We have achieved something presumed to be impossible just a generation ago," EHT project director Sheperd S. Doeleman told Xinhua. "Breakthroughs in technology, connections between the world's best radio observatories, and innovative algorithms all came together to open an entirely new window on black holes and the event horizon." The event horizon is a notional boundary around a black hole beyond which no light can escape.
Editor: Emmi Laine