Astronomy

What we learned from the first-ever photo of a black hole

A photo of the M87 galaxy.
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.

Astronomers take first photo of a black hole

The first photo of a black hole.
A photo of the black hole in the center of M87. Photo: Event Horizon Telescope collaboration et al.

For the first time in history, we know what a black hole looks like, specifically the supermassive black hole lurking in the center of a galaxy called Messier 87 (M87).

Why it matters: A new photo, taken by the Event Horizon Telescope, represents humanity's first real look at a black hole, and it could fundamentally alter how we understand these objects and test even the most basic laws of physics.