It is among the most powerful, confounding and fascinating objects in existence, and on Wednesday humanity finally saw one with its own eyes: Scientists from the Event Horizon Telescope collaboration revealed the first direct image of a black hole.
The image looks a little like an out-of-focus campfire, but the data that went into creating it is actually equal to the amount of selfies 40,000 people might take in their lifetimes, according to University of Arizona astronomy professor Dan Marrone, who spoke at one of six simultaneous press conferences held across four continents.
"The observations were a coordinated dance in which we simultaneously pointed our telescopes in a carefully planned sequence," said Marrone, who traveled to Antarctica several times to integrate the South Pole Telescope into the EHT array.
Besides just being cool, seeing the exact shape of a black hole for the first time was a big deal for science. That's because it could either confirm or cast doubt upon theories of gravity developed by Albert Einstein over a century ago that are fundamental to our understanding of the universe and the laws of physics that govern our daily lives.
"We now have visual evidence for a black hole," EHT project director Sheperd Doeleman told reporters at a press conference in Washington DC. "It is also consistent, the shape of this shadow ... with Einstein's predictions."
The findings were also announced in a series of six papers published in a special issue of Astrophysical Journal Letters.