back to article Humanity gazes into the abyss to get its first glimpse of a black hole

Boffins have battled cries of "but it looks like an onion ring" to show off the first direct visual evidence of a supermassive black hole and its shadow. The shadow bit is important, since imaging a black hole directly is somewhat tricky: everything gets pulled into the thing, even light. Scientists running the Event Horizon …

  1. Oliver Mayes

    "Rather like a black hole for dollar bills."

    $28 million over 20 years is hardly breaking the bank. The US spends more than that on Viagra for veterans.

    1. Daedalus

      Re: "Rather like a black hole for dollar bills."

      $28 million from an annual NSF budget of about $7.8 billion. And that's over 20 years. $1.4 million a year won't pay many salaries in this day and age, not to mention buying specialized equipment and computer time. You could probably fit all the people involved in a seminar room. A medium sized one.

      1. ACZ

        Re: "Rather like a black hole for dollar bills."

        Given the science that they did and the cost of the hardware (everything from hydrogen maser atomic clocks to thousands of helium-filled HDs - too much heat/friction from air-filled HDs), it's an absolute bargain.

        Fantastic Horizon program on BBC 4 about this last night: How to See A Black Hole: The Universe's Greatest Mystery

        There's also a series of six papers published in a special issue of The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

        Stunning work.

        Beers (just not up at telescope altitude ;) to all those involved

  2. Michael H.F. Wilkinson

    Beer all round for boffinry at its best!

    Might take a peek at M87 (and a load of other galaxies in Virgo, its like shooting fish in a barrel in that region) this evening with my rather more modest 8" scope. I'll raise a glass of finest malt whisky to these boffins when I am done.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Black holes are bizarre things

    M87 is a bizarre thing, with that huge jet of hot gas spewing away from it.

    (jokes in 3, 2, 1...)

    1. Ima Ballsy

      Re: Black holes are bizarre things

      Like our President across the pond?

      1. Thrudd the Barbarian

        Re: Black holes are bizarre things

        That would be a feature for either side of the pond.

  4. Aladdin Sane

    Sauron lives...

    1. MiguelC Silver badge

      To me it looks more like a one-eyed smiley face... how appropriate •)

  5. &rew

    Cognitive dissonance?

    I wouldn't have thought that a member of the NSF would be a flat-earther? You'd need the earth to be flat in order to see a newspaper in New York from Paris!

    Joking aside, this is an astounding acheivement. Congratulations! Have a pint.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Cognitive dissonance?

      No not a flat earth - much more likely that the world is on the inside of a sphere, and when we look up the lights in the sky are just streetlight on the other side of the world. Scientists say their telescopes are getting better, but really there are just more streetlights. I expect they have just imaged the Diamond Light Source and got confused.

    2. Loyal Commenter

      Re: Cognitive dissonance?

      The same effect can be observed via gravitational lensing if you move the Earth too close to a black hole...

    3. I3N

      Re: Cognitive dissonance?

      Yes, you can just see the outline of Great A'Tuin ...

  6. Jedit Silver badge

    The Shardcore tweet

    No ring, 3/10.

    In related news, has the first T-shirt with that photo on been printed yet?

  7. chivo243 Silver badge

    Looks familiar

    Cover photo from Soundgarden's Super Unknown which has the song Blackhole Sun.

  8. Anonymous Coward

    Mmmmmm, gravitational donnuuuttt. (drools)

    The real question is whether or not it has sprinkles.

  9. spold Silver badge
    IT Angle

    Cough splutter

    Goatse this - need I say more

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. mrobaer

      Re: Cough splutter

      Isn't that what the graphic at the end of the article is?


    Explanation request

    I haven't seen a labelled version of this image yet. I wonder if any of the astronomical commentards can help me? Would I be right in thinking that :-

    The bright spot at 8 o'clock is caused by relativistic beaming of the part of the accretion disk heading towards us.

    The dark "spot" at 2 o'clock is the accretion disk heading away from us.

    The bright crescent between 3 and 6 is actually light from the underside of the disk being refracted around the black hole.

    The faint red patches at 11 and 5 are relativistic jets.

    Enquiring minds have been let down by the mainstream media!

    (Icon is picture of person answering.)

    1. Oh Matron!

      Re: Explanation request

      <QUOTE>The bright spot at 8 o'clock is caused by relativistic beaming of the part of the accretion disk heading towards us.

      The dark "spot" at 2 o'clock is the accretion disk heading away from us.</QUOTE>

      Unless it's upside down. We probably all think that objects spin the same way regardless of where they are in space, on the same plane.

      I think we've only just begun to understand some of the things about Black Holes

      But, I like your thinking.

      1. STOP_FORTH

        Re: Explanation request

        Well I, for one, don't imagine everything spins the same way on the same plane!

        One news source said it span clockwise (as if that means anything).

        Other sources seem to think we are looking straight down on (or up to) the accretion disk.

        I am assuming the axis of rotation is 11 o'clock to 5 o'clock on the image and the "equator" of the black hole event horizon (if there is such a thing) is tipped towards us. This would make the black hole spin anti-clockwise seen from the top of the image. Furthermore, the central hole doesn't look that circular to me, 2 o'clock round to 8 o'clock looks more elliptical. I think this means it is the edge of the inside of the accretion disk?

        How about it, astro-boffins?

        1. JK63

          Re: Explanation request

          Details from my recollection of the press conference.

          We view the black hole nearly from a polar perspective. Rotation is clockwise in the image. The brighter region at roughly the bottom of the image is moving towards the observer (earth) with the darker portion moving away from the observer.

      2. JK63

        Re: Explanation request

        In the press conference, they mentioned a clockwise spin, and that the bright portion of the disk is moving towards the observer, while the darker portion is moving away from the observer.

        For whatever reason, I was expecting a more uniform accretion disk than observed. But that's my lack of expertise showing.

        I'm curious what results were considered "expected" and what was "unexpected". It's not something they delved into at the presser.

        1. STOP_FORTH

          Re: Explanation request

          Thanks JK63,

          I realise I am way out of my depth here and displaying arrogant Reg Commentard omniscience about subjects of which I know bugger all, but.........

          I think they are quite, quite wrong about this.

          I have a 4" optical reflector somewhere in the loft. I can go and look for it if they want any assistance.

          As that nice man Gove said "I think the people in this country have had enough of experts" or words to that effect.

          Pah, scientists - what do they know?

          1. STOP_FORTH

            Re: Explanation request

            Hmmm, I've had a look into this. The jet from M87 is more or less pointed in our direction, so we are more or less looking down on (up to) the accretion disk face on.

            Seems like people who have been working in a field all their lives know more than some opinionated bloke on the Internet. Who knew?

            1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge
              Thumb Up

              Re: Explanation request

              The universe. Some information to help you live in it.

              One: ‘Area’. Infinite. As far as anyone can make out

              Two: ’Imports’. None. It’s impossible to import things into an infinite area, there being no outside to import things in from.

              Three: ‘Exports’. None. See ’Imports’.

              Four: ‘Rainfall’. None. Rain can not fall because in an infinite space there is no up for it to fall down from.

              1. STOP_FORTH

                Re: Explanation request

                Thanks, I'll get shot of my umbrella.

            2. Ken Hagan Gold badge

              Re: Explanation request

              "Seems like people who have been working in a field all their lives know more than some opinionated bloke on the Internet. Who knew?"

              Well, everyone on El Reg forums, obviously, but beyond that ... far, far, far too few people seem to understand this.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    USS Cygnus


  12. Swarthy Silver badge

    imaging a black hole directly is somewhat tricky:

    Well the thing about space, the basic space colour, the basic colour of space, is that it's black.

    And the thing about a black hole, it's main distinguishing feature, is that it's black, so how you supposed to see it?

    1. Dr. Mouse

      Re: imaging a black hole directly is somewhat tricky:

      I'm waiting for them to realise it was just grit.

      See, the thing about grit is, it’s black...

    2. Arthur the cat Silver badge

      Re: imaging a black hole directly is somewhat tricky:

      the basic colour of space, is that it's black.

      NASA says it's beige (or "cosmic latte" on the Farrow and Ball paint charts).

    3. I&I

      Re: imaging a black hole directly is somewhat tricky:

      Is space quantum-foamy grey? How do BH (with Hawking radiation) compare against that? “Black” is so binary.

    4. I3N

      Re: imaging a black hole directly is somewhat tricky:

      Basic colour of space: 2.725K or there about ...

  13. Baldrickk

    As far as social media images go

    There is a better one than the doughnut:

    this one is tech related

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Direct visual evidence?

    Indirect sub-millimetre radio evidence, you mean. You can't see a black hole directly whatever wavelength you use, even Hawking radiation is indirect as it comes from near the event horizon rather than from the black hole itself.

  15. Conundrum1885

    Looks like a

    Hot electric cooker element viewed from a phone camera.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Whining about picture quality

    Because imaging something that's over a million light years away is easy...

    Personally I thought it looked more like a donut than an onion ring, I guess because I like sweets more than grease!

  17. hatti

    That's not a hole, it's a space station

  18. Ugotta B. Kiddingme

    "That's not a hole..."

    Perhaps it IS a hole, just not the one we thought. Maybe the Great Green Arkleseizure is mooning us.

    Hopefully the Coming of Great White Toilet Paper isn't nigh...

  19. Val Halla

    In a galaxy far, far away.....

  20. DerekCurrie

    Q: Why are light and other EM wavelengths drawn into a Black Hole?

    A: Because all energy has the property of gravity, whether free to roam or trapped in a configuration we call "matter." We don't bother acknowledging the gravity of photons as we are unable to measure it. Of course, a source of massive gravity would draw in even photons of miniscule gravity.

    Q: Could the fact that all energy has gravity explain 'Dark Matter'?

    A: IMHO yes, depending upon how 'Dark Matter' is defined. It's an archaic default scientist behavior to consider anything with measurable gravity to be 'matter'. That is not accurate.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Re: Q: Why are light and other EM wavelengths drawn into a Black Hole?

      Um, we have known really for a long time that light is affected by gravity. This was predicted some time in the 18th century (yes, really). One of the 'three classical tests of general relativity' is that it predicts that the deflection of light by massive bodies will be double the previously-expected value. This prediction was confirmed by Eddington in 1919.

    2. eldakka Silver badge

      Re: Q: Why are light and other EM wavelengths drawn into a Black Hole?

      IANAP, but my understanding is that It's not because of the mass or not of photons that light is bent by gravity, it is because the mass of objects distorts space-time, it curves space-time. And since space-time is the medium that light traverses, when space-time is curved, light follows that curve like a floating object in a whirlpool (of water) or a rolling ball in a cone-shaped object. Therefore massive object(s) like stars, black holes, dark matter, bends space-time, curves it, and light follows that bending that those massive objects - and not its own photonic mass - has created.

  21. mikecoppicegreen

    If you ever wondered what the light at the end of the tunnel would look like, this is it.

    (with apologies to Douglas Adams)

  22. A Non e-mouse Silver badge


    There's a great XKCD cartoon giving some context to the size of this blackhole:

  23. Nunyabiznes



    Really puts the size of that monster into perspective.

  24. Phil Endecott

    They claime the resolution of 20 micro seconds of arc = reading a newspaper from Paris to New York...

    That surprised me. Any experts want to offer back-of-the-envelope calculations?

    1. bobkn

      20 micro arc second equal 0.1 nanoradians. The distance from NY to Paris is roughly 6000 km. That would give a resolution of roughly 0.6 mm. I guess that you could read a headline with that.

      1. Spherical Cow Silver badge

        A resolution of 0.6mm is probably about the same as my first dot matrix printer all those years ago. You could read the headline and also the articles without any trouble.

  25. Conundrum1885

    6.5 BILLION solar masses

    Just to give you an idea of scale the Solar System is about the size of the event horizon.

    M87 is not just a monster, its a supermassive monster that makes Sgr A# look titchy.

    Hats off to Katie Bouman, for her stack of hard drives and ingenuity in stitching together all that data.

    Soon to be Nobel Laureate with any luck, and honorary "Time Lord".

    Random: the gravitational field of supermassive BH's are actually gentler than those of smaller BH's so its possible

    that you could actually get pretty close yet not get crushed. Of course you probably don't want to do that because

    its a one way trip.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    It’s a fascinating image but what’s puzzling me is why we can see inside? If the event horizon is spherical it should be surrounded by a sphere of high energy gas - yet the image appears as a cross-section. OK, it’s not actually penetrating the event horizon to show a true cross-section but it is looking through the surrounding high energy gas. Visually, we should see something similar to an extremely large star, even though we’re using radio telescopes.

    1. mrobaer

      Re: Cross-Section?

      I'd imagine the accretion disk of a black hole would form around it's equatorial plane, much like rings around a planet, and planets around a star, etc.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Cross-Section?

        Yep, that. Regardless of the black-holey-ness or size of the object, things still orbit the object in the same manner our planet (and neighbours) orbits the sun - all in roughly the same plane.

        Our sun could become a black hole, and (apart from it being darker and all life on the planet ending), the planets would continue to orbit as they do today.

    2. Anonymous Coward

      Re: Cross-Section?

      It's not surrounded by a sphere but by a disk. The reason it's not a sphere is the same reason that the Solar system is not: disks minimise the number of collisions.

  27. 89724102172714182892114I7551670349743096734346773478647892349863592355648544996312855148587659264921

    Is that a picture of Uranus?

  28. bobkn

    20 micro arc seconds is 0.1 nanoradians. The NY to Paris distance is very roughly 6000 km. That would give a resolution of 0.6 mm.

  29. bobkn

    But what's the scale of the image?

    Have to keep from screaming that at my monitor. I guess for some, the image is Art.

    1. lglethal Silver badge

      Re: But what's the scale of the image?

      Check out the xkcd posts above for a scale.

  30. Spherical Cow Silver badge

    Credit where it's due please

    Quotes from a couple of other scientists but no mention of Katie Bouman?

  31. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

    Listening to the article on t'BBC

    .. just proved to me that their astronomy coverage is about as good as their tech coverage..

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