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The Real Science of the EHT Black Hole

Published on May 1, 2019
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PBS Space Time

The Real Science of the EHT Black Hole

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How do you take a picture of a black hole and what can we learn from it? Our first ever actual bona fide photo of a black hole, made by the Event Horizon Telescope and revealed to the world in a press conference on April 10th. Since then it’s got plenty of coverage, because … I mean look at it. It’s a freaking black hole. It’s black, it’s holey, it’s everything we hoped it would be. Now that the giddiness has subsided and I personally have stopped spending hours on end staring at a black spot, we can take a breath and actually look at the real science here and discuss exactly how a picture like this could be taken and what we can learn from it.

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Hosted by Matt O'Dowd
Written by Matt O'Dowd
Graphics by Murilo Ceasar Lopes
Directed by Andrew Kornhaber
Produced By: Kornhaber Brown

So, how do you take a picture of a black hole? The beast in question is the supermassive black hole in the center of this – the M87 elliptical galaxy. It has an estimated mass of several billion times that of the Sun, which gives it an event horizon larger than the solar system. M87 is 53 million light years away, so resolving that black hole is equivalent to resolving a grain of stand on the beach in LA – if you’re standing in New York. By comparison, the Hubble Space Telescope would struggle to see a large watermelon over that distance.

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