Astronomy teacher reflects on black hole’s significance


telescope in the desert watching the Great Bear constellation and the milky way

Katie Whaley

April 10, scientists from the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) revealed to the public the first real image of a black hole, in a galaxy called Messier 87 55 million light years away from Earth. The image is not a traditional picture, but a depiction the EHT produced through years of complicated research. Using a network of eight ground-based telescopes across the world, the EHT collected data to produce the image.
The image produced captured a black circle surrounded by a bright, spiraling orange wheel. The dark center — the singularity — is unseeable, as it’s impossible for light to escape from it. People can, however, see the event horizon, or the orange ring.
Astronomy teacher Rex Beltz describes what he knows about black holes and how he feels seeing the first ever image of one.

Can you describe, in brief, what a black hole is, where it comes from, and what it does?

A black hole is a region of spacetime that exhibit strong gravitational effects.  When you ask where does it come from the idea was proposed by John Michell in the late 1700’s but I am sure you mean the supermassive light suckers and they come from supermassive stars at the end of their life cycles.  When you ask what it does that is such an intriguing question and I am not sure I am capable of giving an answer bc we don’t really know.  We can hypothesize, surmise and observe but once something passes the event horizon of the black hole it cannot escape the phenomenal gravity and we don’t know what happens past that point.  We are pretty sure it is destroyed but who knows.  Maybe it is a conduit to another part of the universe, maybe it is a star ignitor, there is so much about black holes that we do not know or understand.

What is the significance of its center?

I assume you are asking about the singularity where there is so much mass in so small a space that the laws of physics cease to exist.  This is all pretty theoretical as we cannot observe what happens past the event horizon.

How amazing is it that we got to see one for the first time ever? How do you feel about being able to see a picture of one?

This may be very unscientific of me but I always enjoy and appreciate the artists interpretation of these events and find them so much more amazing than sometimes the actual “pictures’ that we see.  The pictures do give us a better view of the universe and allows us to learn so much and answer and develop new questions.  The best pictures that we get of these phenomena are always composite images that incorporate multi spectrum analysis, which is amazing but I still love human imagination and inquisitiveness more.  That spirit, desire, and imagination is what got us to the moon and hopefully will get man beyond. In no way am I trying to diminish the amazing, gigantic accomplishment of team of the Event Horizon Telescope, they are fantastic astronomers and are doing amazing science.

Is there anything you hope scientists further explore/experiment with the black hole?

We have barely scratched the surface of our understanding of black holes and we are still taking baby steps in our understanding.  I hope we continue our exploration of the universe as it may be man’s best hope of saving themselves from themselves.
What did you think of the first images of a black hole? Comment below!