Say hello to the black hole deep inside the Messier 87, a galaxy located in the Virgo cluster some 55 million light years away. It may seem underwhelming at first, but it’s one of four images of the supermassive spacetime deforming structure — marking the first time such an object has been photographed.
The shots were captured using a combination of eight radio observatories spread out along four continents, creating what MIT refers to as a “virtual, Earth-sized telescope.” There’s light surrounding the object — a so-called “ring of fire.” True to its name, the black hole’s shadow is the dark region in the center. That, mind you, is the spot where gravity’s pull is so strong not even light can escape.
“This black hole is much bigger than the orbit of Neptune, and Neptune takes 200 years to go around the sun,” Geoffrey Crew, a research scientist at MIT’s Haystack Observatory, said in a statement. “With the M87 black hole being so massive, an orbiting planet would go around it within a week and be traveling at close to the speed of light.”
In fact, the black hole is massive, even by black hole standards. “It has a mass 6.5 billion times that of the Sun,” Prof. Heino Falcke of Radboud University in the Netherlands told the BBC. “And it is one of the heaviest black holes that we think exists. It is an absolute monster, the heavyweight champion of black holes in the Universe.”
The light surrounding the object is much brighter than that of surrounding galaxies, allowing it to be captured at such an incredible distance.