Scientists who imaged a black hole receive the Breakthrough Prize

The consortium of scientists who captured an image of a supermassive black hole for the first time in history have received the 2020 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics, one of science’s most prestigious awards. The prize brings with it a $3 million award.

Professor of astrophysics John Wardle, an expert on radio astronomy, serves on four of the  23 working groups that are part of the Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration, which was awarded the prize. The consortium of scientists at 60 institutions operating in 20 countries and regions used eight radio telescopes positioned around the world to create a synchronized, earth-sized telescope to capture the image, which was released in April.

Wardle helps analyze the polarization of the M87 black hole’s radio emissions, which will enable the researchers to study the black hole’s surrounding magnetic fields. He also serves on the publication working group which shepherded papers through the writing, reviewing and publication process.

In its citation, the Breakthrough Prize committee explained:

“Using eight sensitive radio telescopes strategically positioned around the world in Antarctica, Chile, Mexico, Hawaii, Arizona and Spain, a global collaboration of scientists at 60 institutions operating in 20 countries and regions captured an image of a black hole for the first time. By synchronizing each telescope using a network of atomic clocks, the team created a virtual telescope as large as the Earth, with a resolving power never before achieved from the surface of our planet. One of their first targets was the supermassive black hole at the center of the Messier 87 galaxy – its mass equivalent to 6.5 billion suns. After painstakingly analyzing the data with novel algorithms and techniques, the team produced an image of this galactic monster, silhouetted against hot gas swirling around the black hole, that matched expectations from Einstein's theory of gravity: a bright ring marking the point where light orbits the black hole, surrounding a dark region where light cannot escape the black hole's gravitational pull.”

When the image was released, Wardle said scientists felt some satisfaction in proving Einstein’s gravitational theory, explaining that it “makes you feel that you really do understand some small part of our universe.”


Categories: Research, Science and Technology

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