The Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) has resolved the event horizon of a supermassive black hole

by

Published: 16 April 2019 (GMT+10)
galaxy-M87
Figure 1: Using the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT), scientists obtained an image of the black hole at the centre of galaxy M87, outlined by emission from hot gas swirling around it under the influence of strong gravity near its event horizon..
Credit: Event Horizon Telescope collaboration et al.

On 10 April the globally coordinated announcement was made of the first ever image of the event horizon of the supermassive black hole at the centre of the distant galaxy Messier 87 (M87) (figure 1).1 The galaxy is 55 million light-years away and the supermassive black hole was confirmed to have a mass of 6.5 billion suns.

The Event Horizon Telescope (EHT)2 —a planet-scale array of eight ground-based radio telescopes forged through international collaboration—was designed to capture images of black holes at the centre of galaxies.

This is the work of many astronomers using millimetre wave VLBI radio-telescopes3 across the planet. By stitching together the power of 8 state-of-the-art mmWave radio-telescopes they essentially turned the planet into one giant radio-telescope (figure 2). By using such a large telescope and millimetre wavelengths they gained resolution never obtained before that allowed them to image the event horizon, which is about the diameter of our solar system.

The results so far are consistent with all predictions of Einstein’s General Relativity theory.

Map-EHT
Figure 2: Map of the EHT. Stations active in 2017 and 2018 are shown with connecting lines and labelled in yellow, sites in commission are labelled in green, and legacy sites are labelled in red. Nearly redundant baselines are overlaying each other, i.e., to ALMA/APEX and SMA/JCMT. Such redundancy allows improvement in determining the amplitude calibration of the array.
Credit: Event Horizon Telescope collaboration et al.

From the biblical creationist perspective this is, yet again, good operational science. There is nothing new here that refutes the biblical timeline of about 6,000 years because that is subject to historical science considerations. It is not an operational science question. (Modern science in creationist thinking) The data was taken from the different telescopes and was assembled and processed over a period of about a year, but those initial observations were taken over a period of 7 days in April of 2017. Over those days the supermassive black hole was ‘observed’. In the same way over the 24-hour period Day 4 of Creation Week about 6,000 years ago all the stars and galaxies (with supermassive black holes) were ’observed’ at the earth as God created them (Genesis 1:16–19). God spoke and “it was so.”

Creationist cosmologists have suggested various ways in which God could have done this with starlight from distant stars visible at the earth in the biblical timeframe. But, ultimately, Creation Week was a miraculous series of events, and God might well have done things in a way that is not accessible to us.

References and notes

  1. National Science Foundation News Release 19-006, Astronomers capture first image of a black hole, nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=298276, 10 April 2019. Return to text.
  2. Event Horizon Telescope, eventhorizontelescope.org, accessed 12 April 2019. Return to text.
  3. VLBI (Very Long Baseline Interferometric) radio astronomy uses telescopes separated by a large distance. The larger the distances the greater the resolution. The data is taken at various sites at the same time and later assembled as one observation by a post processing algorithm. In this observation, over 7 days, petabytes (1015 bytes) raw data was saved onto 100 hard disk drives. The hard disks were needed to be flown to the central processing centre because the internet cannot handle such a data load. Return to text.

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Readers’ comments

Gian Carlo B.
I heard of it from my mom, and I saw it discussed in the World Science Festival YT channel. It's an amazing discovery.
Marius V.
The galaxy is 55 million light-years away and the supermassive black hole was confirmed to have a mass of 6.5 billion suns.


Just for interest sake.

How do scientists confirm an entities mass while you only see the front side and has no idea what, and how long stuff entered into it?

Like the example of the glass that has an input and output to explain dating of rocks
Don Batten
See response to Alexander L. Answered there.
Alexander L.
I sometimes I imagine a scientist looking out into space and seeing something that he cannot explain, but he just has to give it a name, and because it looks like a hole he calls it a "BLACK HOLE" but I wonder if black holes actually exist?

I am sure that if they had a telescope big enough to look into the so called black hole they probably would see more stars.
John Hartnett
Evidence for the existence of black holes as described by General Relativity theory is multifaceted. Towards the centre of our Milky Way galaxy, for example, stars are observed to rapidly circle around a point in space called Sagittarius A*. The speed of those stars, and even applying Newtonian physics, indicates that an enormous mass must be enclosed, which has strongly suggested a supermassive black hole at the centre of the galaxy. This new observation shows what was predicted to be seen if one could view a supermassive black hole directly. So the evidence is extremely strong now for the existence of black holes at the centre of galaxies. Other evidence has come from the detection of gravity wave in recent years, which showed the expected signature of two smaller black holes coalescing. So, I don't think any more stars would exist inside the black hole, but it is possble a star could be seen whizzing past in front of the event horizon in the background.
Raymond S.
I'm wondering why the material that is giving off light around the black hole is ring shaped. Shouldn't it be approaching the event horizon from all sides in a spherical fashion so that our view of the "hole" would be obscured?
John Hartnett
Excellent question. That is just what I would have thought also. I saw simulations of what might be expected in 2015 before the measurements were taken and it turns out it depends on the axis of rotation of the BH.
Joe F.
" God might well have done things in a way that is not accessible to us."
In his final sentence, Dr. Hartnett nails a point that secularists conveniently overlook. Humans are finite beings trying to understand an infinite God. The gulf between His omniscience and our limited understanding of things scientific is so great that there are no words to describe it. But God has given us His written Word, and it would be wise, as we continue to explore and discover the mysteries of His creation, to keep in mind what God has told us about how He did what He did. Dr. Hartnett honors that here, and yet his explanation of this advance is as clear and scientifically understandable as any I've yet read. Dr. Hartnett demonstrates once again that science, practiced and explained from a creationist viewpoint, loses nothing of that science itself. Well done, sir. Well done.
Tim K.
What is the theory of the other side of a Black Hole. I heard something about "White Holes" that are spewing out new or recycled galaxies.
John Hartnett
I'd say that that is more speculation than robust theory. The idea is that a black hole could be the entry point to a worm hole that end on the other side of the universe as a white hole. But no white hole has ever been observed. So it remains conjecture.
Gian Carlo G.
Hey Hartnett, I emailed you guys on being very skeptical of EU cosmologists, and I've just seen the same guy who I was debating about the high confidence value of QM; posting a video link in which he says that the image of the Black Hole from the EHT is a Plasmoid and so does the Thunderbolts Projects proponents. What is your answer to this? My answer is that plasmas have no sufficient force to have stars surrounding Sagittarius A accelerate in the manner they are described much less the curvature that was documented. Not even the Sun, who EU cosmologists conceive as a giant plasma sphere, doesn't have enough gravitational force nor even electrostatic force to accelerate incoming stars as fast as was described by those who observed them using IR telescopes and radio telescopes. But maybe you have a more sophisticated response, so I was wondering what you would say to those who interpret this image of a black hole as a "plasmoid"?
John Hartnett
It is very hard to believe that it could be a plasmoid. As you say the enclosed mass needs to be very high to be consistent with measure speeds of stars. In the case of Sagittarius A*, which has not yet been imaged, the density of matter within the orbits of some very fast stars at the centre of the Milky Way is so high that it could not be a plasmoid. It has to be a sypermassive BH or a very compact supermassive object very close to a BH.
Lou B.
Scientifically understandable?

"In the same way over the 24-hour period Day 4 of Creation Week about 6,000 years ago all the stars and galaxies (with supermassive black holes) were ’observed’ at the earth as God created them."

How exactly does one observe newly created celestial bodies 55 million light years away in a 24 hour period?
Don Batten
Please note the last paragraph and the last item linked in 'Related articles'. This is not a new question and it has been dealt with at length on creation.com (use the search engine for more).
Derek H.
“ultimately, Creation Week was a miraculous series of events,” John Hartnett,
Well said. This is the factor to be taken into account in understanding Genesis chs 1&2.
Zach S.
A friend of mine unfortunately bought into the geocentric model that had been spread around recently. To me this discovery is pretty much the knockout punch to geocentrism, so how would I go about explaining to him that God has indeed placed us into a special part of the universe? I heard about a theory that the milky way is indeed at or at least near the center of the known universe and that all the other galaxies seem to be shifting away from us and seems to be set up and designed for us. What is this theory called?
Don Batten
It is called the galactocentric theory. You can search creation.com for papers on the subject. Check out the more recent ones in particular.
Alex W.
In answer to Raymond S. question. For an excellent video explaining how to interpret the black hole image, search Youtube for the title: 'How to Understand the Image of a Black Hole'.
William N.
One of the earlier comments in the blog, suggests that it would be wise for scientists to look more to scripture because “it tells us how God did what He did.” While scripture certainly affirms God created, and we take that in faith, but, scripture does not tell us the actual “how”. Proverbs reminds us that “ it is the glory of God to conceal a matter, and the glory of Kings to search out.”
Is the not the potential glory of science, to reveal the “how” of God’s work ??
Will. N.
Don Batten
This is fine, so long as it not arguing for a two non-overlapping magisteria approach to Scripture and science (which views them as entirely separate domains of thought).
Dean C.
I'm a theoretical physicist, the actual image is very close to the predicted theoretical image. We know how stars die, yet to this day we have no materialistic explanation as to how they are formed. Several ideas have been posited but all have failed to meet any kind of critical evaluation, especially mathematical. I make no claims of being an etymologist, but from what I do know the Bible is clear that God made everything in six days. We have to ask, how fast was God traveling? What kind of gravitational field would he be in if he created all the matter first and then formed it into planets and stars? In a simple thought experiment, what if God made a single observer first and placed a watch on his hand and synchronized it with a watch that God kept during the six day creation period? These watches could be out of synchronization by a vast amount of time. Progressive creation is a ridiculous idea, it contradicts the Genesis account. Age of the Universe you ask? Who is the timekeeper? If it is an anthropocentric view of creation it could be millions of years. Since God is the entity who did the creating, a theocentric view is more plausible. Even if the Earth exists in an extreme gravity well, we still can't explain what we see if we cling to anthropocentric view of time in Genesis. Before anyone slings mud at me, I've made arguments for God with logic, quantum physics and mathematics. I believe in the Genesis account, and clearly see that the Genesis account is distorted by the day-age folks and the progressive creationists. The young earth crowd tends not to understand how time works and it is a shame. The crux of the argument should be six day creation, not how old everything is to a theoretical human observer.
Don Batten
Appreciate your comments, but "The young earth crowd tends not to understand how time works and it is a shame." I think reveals an ignorance of the published material from "the young earth crowd". Time dilation models have been discussed for at least 20 years. You could check this article by Dr Russ Humphreys for example, but there are many others (check the starlight and time topic): New time dilation model.
Matthew T.
It is interesting how a black hole is created. A black hole is created when a star dies and goes supernova. The remains of the star then turn into nebula and/or a black hole. Both have interesting properties. A nebula usually holds enough radiation that is could fry Earth, while a black hole holds such great gravitational force that anything nearby is sucked in and compressed. Both are very impressive, and they give glory to God's creation.
Bob E.
Thank you creation.com and Dr Hartnett for addressing countless amazing new discoveries! In the U.S. in the last few years we've had major theatrical "Fathom Event" movie releases of powerful young-earth creation films. Regarding starlight and time, they've noted the Bible's repeated reference to God "stretching" out the heavens and suggest this might hint toward the "how". Makes me wonder whether strecthing might be a superior model to a "bang" when considering discoveries of galactic superstructures including giant filaments, the giant spiral, and the Sloan Great Wall.

The current focus on this 6.5B solar mass black hole at 55M ly distance reminds me of the 2015 journal Nature report of one containing the mass of 12 billion Suns at 12.8 billion light years away! As the media reported at the time, this object "simply can't exist" because gravity couldn't attract that much mass that quickly in a big bang universe. The same and similar big bang problems exist with the discoveries of mature distant galaxies, distant galaxy clusters, and many superclusters. Thanks CMI for your biblical perspective helping us better understand such things!
Dan S.
As stated in Rev 21 about the first Heaven and Earth passing away. Then God creates a new Heaven and Earth. Do you think a Black Hole could be part of this process?
It would fit in with the strange sights in the sky as spoken elsewhere, now that we can see at these great distances.
Don Batten
Only God knows!
Jeannette P.
Amazing!!!

Presumably God created galaxies with black holes in the centre to stabilise them, just as solar systems (including our own) have stars in the centre for the same purpose.

This is of course conjecture, but did Ezekiel see a representation of the universe in his vision (Ezekiel 1:4ff)?

Isaiah 66:1-2 says "This is what the Lord says:
“Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool.
Where is the house you will build for me?
Where will my resting place be?"

Has not my hand made all these things,
and so they came into being?”
declares the Lord." [NIV]

If "Heaven" (the universe) is His throne it has to be identified with the cherubim. In photographs of galaxies they look very much like eyes!

Could be!...
Don Batten
We have to be careful here. There are three heavens mentioned in Scripture. The Apostle Paul refers to the third heaven in 2 Corinthians 12:2 the Apostle Paul said, "I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows."
The abode of God (the third heaven?) is not likely in the physical universe, which was created by Him.
Norman G.
as a christian, does any of this matter
Don Batten
Not if you are not interested in it! :-)
Of course it is not a salvation issue.

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