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Why you should care about the black hole images, even if you’re not a scientist

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Dr. Tom Maccarone, a Professor at Texas Tech University explains that today’s unveiling of the first visual proof of a black hole, captured by a global network of telescopes is a major scientific discovery. 

The grainy images may not look like much to the untrained eye, but they represent humanity’s first look at the M87 black hole and decades of research.

“I think they spent about ten years working on this project, and the first real discussion of maybe trying to do something like this was maybe 20 years ago.” Dr. Maccarone said.

In press events held around the world today the images were released after being verified by 200 scientists according to the national science foundation.

 “They managed to produce an image of where the radio emission from where this black hole is coming from, and where there’s a shadow. This is the first time we’ve been able to do this using this method” Dr. Maccarone explained.

The scientists used radio telescopes around the globe to help use the earth’s movement to create the image.

 “It was only when these new telescopes were built that it was possible to have enough sensitivity and enough angular resolution to do this project”

Dr. Maccarone said this is thanks in large part to communication and technological advances.

“They had the equivalent of 50,000 years worth of mp3 music, that’s how much disk space they needed to store all the data they need..and as far as the computational needs, 20 years ago you wouldn’t even be able to process the data even if you’d been able to collect them.”

While the implications behind the scientific theory reinforced by this discovery may be over the general public’s head, Maccarone says he believes the discovery is something everyone should get excited about.

“One of the big things about astronomy is it allows people in the general public to see science happening and we can’t explain the gory details but we can explain the big picture and it helps motivate people to understand that science is exciting and that we’re learning about how things work and that’s the most important thing is the spirit of discovery…When they were first discovering new continents on earth that must have been the most exciting thing in Europe even though they weren’t benefiting from it, I kind of think of astronomers as the modern day explorers that are kind of understanding the universe.”

 

 

 

 

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