‘The dawn of a new era in astronomy’



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‘The dawn of a new era in astronomy’ - Harvard

What the quest to image black holes could tell us about our universe​

Not long ago, the idea of photographing a black hole was as quixotic as photographing a unicorn. Now, scientists have not one but two images of two different supermassive black holes — and they both look as magical as flaming doughnuts.

“I remember when black holes were purely theoretical,” said Ellen Stofan, under secretary for science and research at the Smithsonian and former chief scientist at NASA, during a post-reveal panel on Thursday. Moderated by Stofan, the conversation brought together four members of the Harvard-led team of scientists that in 2019 revealed to the world the first image of a black hole — a behemoth dubbed M87 after its galaxy, Messier 87. Hours before the panel discussion, the team shared a second image — a close-up of Sagittarius A-star (or Sgr A*), the black hole snacking on light and cosmic debris at the center of our very own Milky Way galaxy.

“There can be no doubt now that we’ve seen black holes for the first time,” said Shep Doeleman, founding director of the Event Horizon Telescope collaboration, an international team of more than 100 scientists led by the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian. “It’s the dawn of a new era in astronomy.”