Astrophysics professor on first photo of black hole

Professor Michael Smith, Director of the Centre for Astrophysics and Planetary Science at the University's School of Physical Sciences, says he never thought it would be possible to produce a photograph of a black hole.

He comments: ‘The imaged black hole is really a monster, embedded in a galaxy which is a thousand times further away from us than the one in the core of our Milky Way.

‘The black hole silhouetted is, however, a thousand times larger in mass and hence a thousand times larger in diameter. On top of that it is very active at the moment, a moment being a few million years. Therefore, there is a swirling gas cloud that generates a curtain of light distorted by the hole. Without that, there would not be much to image.

‘The Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) is pioneering technology. Normally, we would not see this, even with our continental wide telescopes (like a mirror except fragmented with the fragments taken to different locations in the world, and then brought back together to record the observation).

On the other hand, the EHT measures light on much shorter waves than we normally use with our radios or radio telescopes. It is harder to put the fragments back together but, when achieved, it produces magnificent results: exceedingly high resolution. Something I never thought would be possible.’

Professor Smith is an Associate of The Royal College of Science, a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society and a member of the International Astronomical Union.