The Event Horizon Telescope, actually a network of telescopes across the world, has successfully completed its highly-anticipated ten-day-long observation period. Researchers pointed the array of dishes at the center of our galaxy and the M87 galaxy in order to snap pictures of some black holes. That’s really exciting! It’s awesome! We will maybe soon see a real image of a black hole! But not for, you know, a bunch of months.
You’ve probably seen lots of really beautiful images of black holes this week. Here’s one. And here’s another one, and there’s one here and another one here. You, readers, already know that these are just beautiful artist renderings and simulations. But your less science-inclined friends or relatives might just see a headline along the lines of “We’ve just finished taking a picture of a black hole,” see the artist rendition, and say, wow. Black holes are so beautiful, how did they get the camera so close?
Yes, the Event Horizon Telescope successfully collected data for the past week and a half. All of the scopes in the network recorded the radio waves emanating from the center of the galaxy, where the supermassive black hole Sagittarius A* is believed to reside. Things went well, with the exception of some bad weather here and there. But now, the scientists must take their data back to supercomputers, line up those light sources, and run special algorithms to get the final picture. As we previously reported, this will happen later this year at the earliest, but we may need another cycle of observation before we get our first true image of a black hole.
No matter what the Event Horizon Telescope sees, it will be amazing. But if you see any images like these around, just know that they do not depict the outcome of the Event Horizon Telescope’s observing run. The following are not photos of black holes.
This is not a photo of a black hole. This is a computer-generated image of what a black hole might look like, and how its gravity might distort the light around it.
This is not a photo of a black hole. This is an artist’s depiction of how matter might be ripped and radiate energy as it orbits the black hole’s high-gravity center.
This is not a photo of a black hole. This is, again, an artist’s depiction of matter orbiting and being torn apart by a black hole’s gravity.
This is not a photo of a black hole. I made this in Photoshop because I wanted an image to go along with this story and didn’t want to use a stock photo.
This is not a photo of a black hole. This is the ring from the 2002 horror classic, The Ring.
This is not a photo of a black hole. This is a photo of a toilet bowl.
This is not a photo of a black hole. This is a dog.
This is not a photo of a black hole. This is a simulation of a black hole created for the movie Interstellar. However, it’s important to note that it’s pretty accurate—aside from the artistic changes (more about that here), it’s based on real data about what a small black hole should look like. Some scientists even think the Event Horizon Telescope’s final picture might look like this one.
Anyway, I hope that was helpful. Don’t let your grandpa tell people he’s seen a black hole. He hasn’t.
Update, 4:20 PM (nice): Avery Broderick from the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Canada with the Event Horizon Telescope did make another simulation of what Sagittarius A* might look like at the end of all the number crunching. Yes, it’s informed by seven years of data. But this is not a photo of a black hole.