Why the first ever black hole image is so significant

Astronomers have just released the very first direct image, ever, of the event horizon of a black hole. UC Professor David Wiltshire describes the significance of this astronomical milestone.

By Event Horizon Telescope - https://iopscience.iop.org/journal/2041-8205

We can now create a close up image of light bending around a 6.5 billion solar mass black hole 55 million light years away. Wow!

This discovery, like that of gravitational waves a few years ago, marks another important milestone in understanding the strong gravity of black holes.

It is also a red letter day for Canterbury Distinguished Professor Roy Kerr, whose solution of Einstein’s equations describes these objects.

As the abstract of the last of several papers in Astrophysical Journal Letters notes: “This measurement from lensed emission near the event horizon is consistent with the presence of a central Kerr black hole, as predicted by the general theory of relativity.”

This means in future we will not only be able to learn more about the crucial role that supermassive black holes play in the life cycle and ecology of galaxies, but we will be also be able to test the foundations of Einstein’s theory of gravity in the most extreme regime possible. It is a great step forward for science.

More is coming in the next decade as technology finally catches up with general relativity just over 100 years after Albert Einstein conceived it, and over 50 years since Roy Kerr discovered its most important solution.

Watch this space!

Dr David Wiltshire is a Professor of theoretical physics at the University of Canterbury.