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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

11 mins ago - Technology

Scoop: Facebook exec warns of "more bad headlines"

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

In a post to staffers Saturday obtained by Axios, Facebook VP of global affairs Nick Clegg warned the company that worse coverage could be on the way: “We need to steel ourselves for more bad headlines in the coming days, I’m afraid.”

Catch up quick: Roughly two dozen news outlets had agreed to hold stories based on leaked materials from Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen for Monday publication — but the embargo fell apart Friday night as participating newsrooms posted a batch of articles ahead of the weekend.

"Atmospheric river" to whiplash Northern California from drought to flood

A map depicting 24-hour preciptation forecast (inches) ending Monday at 5a.m. local time. Photo: NOAA

A series of powerful "atmospheric river" storms are set dump historic amounts of rainfall across parts of drought-stricken California and the Pacific Northwest from this weekend, forecasters warn.

Why it matters: A strong atmospheric river, packing large amounts of moisture, is predicted to whiplash Northern California from drought to flood.

Inside Biden's Taiwan flubs

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Twice this year, President Biden has blurted out commitments that the U.S. is prepared to defend Taiwan against a Chinese invasion — forcing the White House to walk back his statements and leading to confusion over a high-stakes national security policy.

Why it matters: U.S. defense officials have publicly aired their concerns that China will take Taiwan by force in the next four to six years, perhaps sooner. The president's position on this question may soon have real-world, life and death consequences.

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