Black holes can have light rings

This is what a black hole looks like in real life

It is an astronomical sensation: A research team with German participation has photographed a black hole for the first time. So far there have only been graphic representations. The recordings that have now been made have the potential to revolutionize our understanding of the universe. The picture shows a dark circle surrounded by a flaming orange-red ring of light.

The black hole is located in the Messier galaxy 87-55 million light years from Earth. The picture was taken as part of a large-scale collaboration that connects eight telescopes around the globe using supercomputers. This enabled a picture of unprecedented resolution. To process the measurements recorded worldwide, huge amounts of data (e.g. at the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy) from various astronomical experiments have to be processed.

"For the first time, the results give us a clear view of a supermassive black hole and they mark an important milestone for our understanding of the fundamental processes that determine the formation and development of galaxies in the universe," says Anton Zensus, director at Max Bonn Planck Institute and Chairman of the EHT Collaboration Council.

"For many decades we were only able to detect black holes indirectly," said Michael Kramer, Director at the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy. Then a few years ago detectors would have measured gravitational waves for the first time and made the effects of black holes on space-time as it were audible when they merged. "Now we can finally see them and have the opportunity to study these exotic objects and their extreme space-time curvature with all their fascination in a unique way," says the scientist.

The BMBF funded the APEX telescope involved in the discovery from 2002 to 2014 as part of joint research with a total of 2.8 million euros. The Ruhr University Bochum and the University of Cologne were involved.

The Max Planck Society has prepared a comprehensive focus on the topic on its website, including an interview with Max Planck Director Anton Zensus on the development and research of black holes.