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The first photo of a black hole

Week 78.0 — 22nd April '19
A black hole is invisible by nature. One of the strangest predictions to come out of Albert Einstein's theory of general relativity, a black hole emits no radiation we can detect, and it swallows up everything that falls on it, matter and light alike.

With Interstellar being one of my favourite movies I was intrigued to see what a black hole would really look like. The movie was hailed at being fairly scientifically accurate and depicted a blank sphere surrounded by light.

Interstellar black hole

I don't think the size of the black hole itself or what the size of the achievement was obvious at first, certainly not in the coverage I saw. Having seen the photo many times in isolation, it wasn't until xkcd.com put together a size comparison between M87 and our solar system:

M87 black hole on xkcd.com

Forget the size of the solar system, would Earth even register as a pixel?

What was achieved?

The feat marks the first time in history that astronomers have seen the shape of an event horizon.

Axios had a good summary of why it was a triumph for modern astronomy:

  • The EHT is a group of radio observatories that stretch around the globe from the U.S. to Greenland and even the South Pole, creating a virtual telescope the size of Earth.
Those observatories worked in tandem with one another to look into the heart of M87, revealing the black hole in its center. But getting this photo wasn't easy.

  • ...the EHT effectively revealed the shadow of a black hole illuminated by the matter on the edge of the object's event horizon — the area near the black hole known as the "point of no return," where the gravity is so great that nothing can escape.

How they did it: All of the radio telescopes working with the EHT used atomic clocks to sync up observations of the black hole. But there was too much data to send over the internet. Instead, the team had to ship the data by mail to one facility where it could be processed by a supercomputer.

You can watch the video by Vox a little further down for more on how the data was captured and then moved around. We can see the stars with our eyes, we've sent probes out into space and now we've been able to 'see' the invisible. What an achievement.

Read more

If you'd like to read more, over the last couple of weeks I've linked to coverage from Axios: where black hole research goes next, the BBC and there was a great video from VOX.

The BBC also uploaded on the astronomers reacting to the image and National Geographic take an in-depth look at the unveiling.


One piece I didn't get to see before publishing was this video from Veritasium on how the photo was captured and why it's so blurry:

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Quick links and commentary on interesting articles, videos and more throughout the week.

  1. 78.1 – Monday
    1. #EarthDay @wired on instagram.com
    2. New logo and identify for Nike by You underconsideration.com
  2. 78.2 – Tuesday
    1. PSG's Notre Dame tribute @soccerbible on instagram.com
    2. Popularity of OLED smartphones with in-display fingerprint scanners continues to grow in 2019 macrumors.com
    3. Avengers Infinity War How It Should Have Ended on youtube.com
    4. Facebook's role in Brexit — and the threat to democracy Carole Cadwalladr on ted.com
    5. The Genesis Mint Concept has very interesting doors topgear.com
    6. Rex Dasher's Porsche Mission E from 'Playmobile: The Movie'   £69.99 playmobil.co.uk
    7. How people in the US use social media @tomcoates on twitter.com
    8. 'When They See Us' trailer Netflix on youtube.com
  3. 78.3 – Wednesday
    1. 'Your attention has real economic value...' @GetWiser on twitter.com
    2. What the internet knows about you axios.com
    3. The 2020 Tesla Roadster has no door handles @hamids on twitter.com
    4. We are in the age of the digital baby-sitter axios.com
    5. Don't mess with mother Apple on youtube.com
    6. Colorism in High Fashion pudding.cool
    7. Why we'll never have the perfect controller Cheddar on youtube.com
    8. Winter Is Coming, the climate change message at the heart of Game of Thrones kottke.org
  4. 78.4 – Thursday
    1. Retro Tech: Game Boy Marques Brownlee on youtube.com
    2. Samsung Galaxy Fold teardown ifixit.com
    3. Climate Change — The Facts youtube.com
    4. What makes the perfect pizza Bon Appétit on youtube.com
  5. 78.5 – Friday
    1. 2019 Brazil football shirts @soccerbible on instagram.com
    2. Earth Lil Dicky on youtube.com
    3. An artist spent 3,000 hours colorizing vintage black and white photos of celebrities businessinsider.com
    4. Maharishi x XL Recordings t-shirt   £50 maharishistore.com
    5. 24 magazine covers about climate change washingtonpost.com
  6. 78.6 – Saturday
    1. What happens to traffic when you tear down a freeway? Grist on youtube.com
    2. Why everyone is watching TV with Closed Captioning on these days kottke.org
  7. 78.7 – Sunday
    1. Avengers: Endgame Ukiyo-e Fan Art theawesomer.com
    2. Folding wooden ladder toxel.com
    3. Facebook ussers morbidly curious what site going to do with their personal data to recoup $5 billion fine theonion.com
    4. How I really feel about that BEL-AIR trailer Will Smith on youtube.com

Jump to notable items for Week #77, Week #79 , view the notable archive or my favourites.

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