First black hole photo should be released tomorrow; explanatory video below

Reader Bryan called my attention to the fact that in exactly 24 hours, a photo of a black hole (if there is indeed such a photo), will be released for the first time. The project is described in this New York Times article, which gives this context:

At 9 a.m. Eastern Time on Wednesday April 10, a group of astronomers who run a globe-girdling network of radio telescopes called the Event Horizon Telescope are expected to unveil their long awaited pictures of a pair of putative black holes. One of the objects sits at the center of the Milky Way galaxy, buried in the depths of interstellar dust and gas, and equivalent in mass to 4.1 million suns that otherwise have disappeared from the visible universe.

The other target is in the heart of Messier 87, a giant galaxy in the constellation Virgo, where a black hole 7 billion times the mass of the sun is spewing a jet of energy thousands of light-years across space.

According to calculations, and if all has gone well, either or both of the black holes should appear as a tiny shadow backlit by the glow of radio energy at the galactic center.

They might be circular, oval or some other shape entirely, depending on whether they are rotating, or if the Einsteinian equations describing them are slightly wrong, or if they are spitting flares of energy, which is how quasars produce fireworks visible across the universe.

. . .astronomers are thrilled at the prospect of finally, actually seeing the previously unseeable.

“Yes, I’m definitely excited to see the image!” Daniel Holz, of the University of Chicago, wrote in an email. “It’s not really rational, since I know the math works and the theory has been thoroughly tested. But still, this would be a picture of the real thing, up close and personal. That is super cool.”

Read more below. The article says that although we don’t know for sure if the image of a black hole will be captured, the scientists are acting as if they have something to show: there will be a simultaneous announcement in six places and a big party at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. So this should be cool, and we’re luck to see it in our lifetime.

Bryan also sent a link to this 9-minute video, adding that “Derek Mueller has a very lucid theoretical primer – using tangible props and minimal computer graphics ( I particularly liked this )- which will help understand the anticipated image of the black hole tomorrow.” Do watch it today, though, as it is Mueller’s guess about what the photo will look like based on the principles of physics. It also explains the connection between the image and the Einstein’s theory of relativity.


  1. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted April 9, 2019 at 11:39 am | Permalink


  2. rickflick
    Posted April 9, 2019 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

    Pretty amazing. I wish Stephen Hawking could see this.

  3. Steve Gerrard
    Posted April 9, 2019 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

    Nothing to see here, folks. And that is what is so amazing! A picture of the ultimate form of nothing to see – that which is too massive and dense to allow light to reveal it.

  4. Ken Kukec
    Posted April 9, 2019 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    Does this mean Stephen Hawking would’ve owed Kip Thorne another one-year subscription to Penthouse?

  5. Posted April 9, 2019 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

    That… was cool. And to think that the rather fanciful-look of a black hole featured in the Interstellar movie was really based on a theoretical something. The movie was pretty good in its own right as well.

    • Shatterface
      Posted April 9, 2019 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

      There are some oversimplifications (the acretion disc doesn’t show any red or blue shift and the hole appears to be changeless) but the fact that you can see the acretion disc behind the hole above and below it because of the way gravity bends light around it appears sound.

      It’s no 2001 but I certainly enjoyed it.

  6. Posted April 9, 2019 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

    Kind of a weird way for these physicists to do science, though. If I thought I was about to make a discovery tomorrow, I think I would wait until tomorrow before I blabbed to all the media about it…

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted April 9, 2019 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

      But if you were planning to hold a press conference tomorrow, wouldn’t you want journalists to know that in advance?

      • Posted April 10, 2019 at 8:58 am | Permalink

        I’d have the press conference the day after.

    • Posted April 10, 2019 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

      I see that the actual photos were “taken” in April two years ago. They are only being released today.

  7. Mark R.
    Posted April 9, 2019 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    That was an enlightening video. Looking forward to what the photos reveal tomorrow.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted April 9, 2019 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

      Pun intended?

      • Michael Waterhouse
        Posted April 10, 2019 at 2:54 am | Permalink

        Like when he said “misses the ‘gravity’ of the situation”?

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted April 10, 2019 at 11:46 am | Permalink

          Yeah…I was hoping for a wink after he said that.

  8. phoffman56
    Posted April 9, 2019 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

    Science journalists have a very difficult job, and being partially misleading is nearly always impossible to avoid. So I’m not being critical here at all, of neither an NYT journalist, nor certainly not of Mueller’s video.

    A picture or photo previously gets photons (of visible frequency) to enter our eyes. The important ones from that photograph have, in most cases prior to this, always come from areas of the photograph which are basically created themselves from other photons which actually originated from the interesting photographic subject at the time the image was ‘snapped’, maybe a person, or maybe a star where it would actually be at least 4 years before that time, etc. (and come not from the uninteresting part of the nearby background).

    But that very last bracketed phrase is not the case here. This is clear simply from the definition of ‘black hole’, since no photons can come here from the black hole itself. Also this is made much more specific in Mueller’s enlightening video. Here what interests us originated from nearby, but outside, the black hole, where I’m taking that to mean the interior of the event horizon.

    This of course is just as convincing an additional proof that the black hole exists as any more traditional photograph is of the existence of something less exotic. So I guess we’ll be seeing stuff from outside the event horizon, and so outside the black hole, and the photons from there, as usual in astrophysics are likely not in the visible range of frequencies, but are converted to such in the ‘photo’.

    More exotically, perhaps even info from detectors of gravitational waves will come to be referred to as photographs.

    As a separate matter, the almost certain existence of black holes in our part of the multiverse was initially established, quite surprisingly to many astrophysicists, in papers back in the 1960’s (partly joint) by Stephen Hawking BUT ALSO by Roger Penrose. The latter will see the photos I’m sure. I agree, too bad not both.

    • Don Mackay
      Posted April 9, 2019 at 9:12 pm | Permalink

      and here is a school biology analogy: cut a thin piece of card 5 cm x 5cm. Obtain a pin (complete with head)and use it to push a hole in the middle of the card. Ensure the hole is clean. Holding pin with right hand, and head uppermost, bring it close to and just in front of the left eye (pupil thereof). Now with the left hand bring the card close to the same eye, just beyond the pinhead and in line with the pin head, while looking at a bright surface, or light. With a little jiggling(up-down, to and fro) you will detect an image of the pin: black and upside down. The shadow of the pin ‘falls on’ the retina, and since no cone cells will be stimulated the image is black. Can you explain why the image is also inverted?

    • phoffman56
      Posted April 10, 2019 at 7:28 am | Permalink

      I’ve not seen anything yet, but here is a clear and much more expert account of what may be in those photos, by particle physicist Matt Strassler:

  9. Diana MacPherson
    Posted April 9, 2019 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

    That was a good explanatory video. I’m curious what this image is going to look like.

  10. Kenneth Averill
    Posted April 9, 2019 at 8:07 pm | Permalink

    Announcement 6 am tomorrow!

    On Tue, Apr 9, 2019 at 9:31 AM Why Evolution Is True wrote:

    > whyevolutionistrue posted: “Reader Bryan called my attention to the fact > that in exactly 24 hours, a photo of a black hole (if there is indeed such > a photo), will be released for the first time. The project is described in > this New York Times article, which gives this context: ” >

%d bloggers like this: