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A close-up of the core of the M87 galaxy with a black hole in its center. Photo: NASA/CXC/Villanova University/J. Neilsen

On Thursday, an international team of scientists unveiled the first-ever photo taken of a black hole, giving humanity a glimpse of one of the most extreme objects in the universe.

The big picture: The photo, taken by the Event Horizon Telescope, shows the shadow of Messier 87's (M87) supermassive black hole surrounded by a ring of light near the object's event horizon — the point at which nothing, not even light, can escape the gravitational pull of the black hole.

By the numbers:

  • M87 is located about 55 million light-years away in the constellation Virgo.
  • The black hole in the center of the galaxy is about 6.5 billion times the mass of the sun and is about the size of our solar system at 62 billion miles across.
  • The Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) is actually a group of eight radio telescopes that worked in tandem using precise atomic clocks to sync up observations and photograph the black hole.
  • More than 200 researchers were part of the EHT collaboration, and they released six scientific papers Wednesday detailing their observations.

Details: The new photo could reveal more than just the shadow of a black hole. The EHT image could actually help scientists figure out exactly how galaxies grow and form, powered by black holes feasting on matter in their centers.

  • The new photo also proves part of Einstein's general theory of relativity (again), showing that the structure of the black hole is what Einstein expected it to be. Interestingly, while a black hole is explained by his theories, Einstein was actually a skeptic of their existence.
  • The EHT also observed the huge black hole in the center of our Milky Way, though the team has yet to release photos of that particular black hole.
  • Files produced during observations of the black hole by the telescopes that form the EHT were too large to send over the internet, so they all had to be shipped by mail to a central location where a supercomputer could process them.

Go deeper:

Go deeper

Updated 8 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Inauguration Day dashboard

U.S. Capitol and stage are lit at sunrise ahead of the inauguration of Joe Biden. Photo: Patrick Semansky - Pool/Getty Images

President Biden has delivered his inaugural address at the Capitol, calling for an end to the politics as total war but warning that "we have far to go" to heal the country.

What's next: Biden and Vice President Harris review readiness of military troops, a long-standing tradition to signify the peaceful transfer of power.

13 mins ago - Politics & Policy

President Joe Biden vows to be “a president for all Americans”

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

President Joe Biden sought to sooth a nation riven by political divisions and a global pandemic, but warned that "we have far to go" to heal the country and defeat a "virus that silently stalks the the country."

The big picture: Moments after taking the oath of office, Biden spoke on the Capitol’s West front, from the very steps that a pro-Trump mob launched an assault on Congress two weeks earlier. They were attempting to overturn an election where Biden defeated former President Donald Trump by more than 7 million votes.

Updated 31 mins ago - Politics & Policy

In photos: The Biden and Harris inauguration

Joe Biden is sworn in as the 46th president of the United States. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were inaugurated as president and vice president respectively in a ceremony at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday morning.

Why it matters: Top Democrats and Republicans gathered for the peaceful transfer of power only two weeks after an unprecedented siege on the building by Trump supporters to disrupt certification of Biden's victory. Trump did not attend Wednesday's ceremony.

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