The international science consortium called the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) on Wednesday unveiled, in six simultaneous press conference around the world, the first image ever taken of a Black Hole. The object imaged was the supermassive Black Hole in the centre of the M87 galaxy, 55-million light years from Earth.
"You cannot see a Black Hole," noted EHT Science Council chairperson Professor Heino Falcke. "But you can see its shadow."
The accretion disk surrounding the Black Hole is clearly visible in the image. As the size of the disk is determined by the mass of the Black Hole, the astronomers have been able to calculate the mass of the Black Hole. It is 6.5-billion times the mass of the Sun.
"It is like looking at the gates of hell," said Falcke. "The end of space and time."
Although no South African telescope forms part of the EHT, University of Pretoria astrophysicist Professor Roger Deane is a member of the EHT consortium. Deane heads the University's Radio Astronomy Research Group. (The University hosted a live streaming feed from the EHT press conference, announcing the image, in Brussels in Belgium.)
The EHT is composed of an array of eight ground-based radio telescopes around the world. At the University of Pretoria, Deane and his team created an extremely realistic simulation of the eight telescopes working together as a single array. This allowed the determination of the array's limits and the testing of the algorithms that were used to recover the Black Hole's shadow.