EHT Team Wins Multi-million Dollar Prize for Black Hole Photo

The team behind the groundbreaking photo of a black hole have won a massive cash prize.
Christopher McFadden
Black hole taken by winning teammaxpixelEHT

This month The Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration or EHT team members will be awarded a multi-million dollar prize for their amazing photo of a black hole. The prize is only eight years old but the EHT team is the latest in a line to be honored with this prestigious prize.


How much did the EHT team win?

The team who managed to create the first-ever image of the black hole back in April of this year has been awarded the 2020 Breakthrough Prize. This $3 Million dollar prize first began about eight years ago and is funded by a team of investors.

Financial backers for this prize include Sergey Brin of Google and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook fame. This prize has come to be known colloquially as the "Oscar of Science".

EHT prize winning photo
Source: EHT

The team won the prize despite the image being a little blurry.  It is widely considered a major milestone in space research.

The winners, The Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration (EHT) team will split the $3 million prize between them. Each of the 347 scientists involved will receive a cut of around $8,600.

What did EHT do to win the prize?

The now-famous image released in April this year captures for the first time of a supermassive black hole at the center of the Messier 87 Galaxy (Virgo A). This galaxy is around 54 million light-years away from Earth.

This galaxy is a supergiant elliptical galaxy in the Virgo constellation. The black hole in question is estimated to be around 6.5 billion suns in mass. 

Every supermassive black hole is known to be bordered by something called an event horizon. Beyond this point, gravity is so strong that matter and light are unable to escape the maw of the black hole.

EHT supermassive black hole
Artist's impression of a rapidly spinning supermassive black hole surrounded by an accretion disc. Source: ESO/Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

This creates a circular "shadow" where no light is able to escape once it crosses the event horizon. Outside of this horizon, supermassive black holes have something called an accretion disk. 

This amalgamation of clouds of hot gas and dust is trapped in orbit about the black hole like water circling a drain. Since no light can escape the black hole 'proper', they are able to infer one's presence by discovering and observing these accretion disks. 

"As a cloud of gas gets closer to the black hole, they speed up and heat up," said Josephine Peters, an astrophysicist at the University of Oxford, in a Business Insider article in October.

"It glows brighter the faster and hotter it gets. Eventually, the gas cloud gets close enough that the pull of the black hole stretches it into a thin arc."

These disks give off radio waves that can readily be detected by high-powered telescopes. By doing this, EHT scientists were able to generate the multi-million dollar winning image.

How was the image captured?

The team of scientists began collecting information on black holes as early as 2006. Building on there knowledge and experience over the following years, the team were able to attempt something no one has achieved ever in science - photograph a black hole. 

To do this, the EHT team used a suite of 8 telescopes stationed around the world. Based on 20 countries around the world, the team of 60 institutions was able to make this impressive scientific feat.

The team relied on 8 radio telescopes operating in Antarctica, Chile, Mexico, Hawaii, Arizona, and Spain. They also made use of a network of atomic clocks to synchronize each telescope with incredible precision around the globe.

After gathering data in this manner over two years, they were able to compile their incredible, yet eerie image. 

"It feels like looking at the gates of hell, at the end of space and time," Heino Falcke, an Event Horizon Telescope collaborator, said when the photo was published in April.

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