HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Two of the world’s most powerful telescopes atop Mauna Kea played a key role in producing the first image ever made of a black hole.
In news conferences worldwide Wednesday, scientists revealed the image of the black hole ― located at the center of a massive galaxy in the nearby Virgo galaxy cluster.
It’s about 55 million light years from Earth and has a mass 6 1/2 billion times that of the Sun.
Previously, scientists believed it was impossible to get pictures of black holes.
But in April 2017, a campaign brought eight telescopes at six locations around the world ― including Hawaii ― in a bid to change that.
The James Clerk Maxwell Telescope and Submillimeter Array in the islands were part of the Event Horizon Telescope project to capture the first image of the black hole.
And another interesting tidbit: That black hole also bears a Hawaiian name.
It's called "Powehi," which means embellished dark source of unending creation.
Astronomers collaborated with Larry Kimura, a renowned Hawaiian language and cultural practitioner, to come up with the name.
“To have the privilege of giving a Hawaiian name to the very first scientific confirmation of a black hole is very meaningful to me and my Hawaiian lineage that comes from po, and I hope we are able to continue naming future black holes from Hawaii astronomy according to the Kumulipo,” Kimura said, in a statement.
The photo shows the black hole’s hot, shadowy edges― where light bends around itself. Nothing, not even light, escapes from supermassive black holes.
Sheperd S. Doeleman, project director of the Event Horizon Telescope, said some 200 researchers helped in the effort to capture the image.
“This is an extraordinary scientific feat,” he said.
“We have achieved something presumed to be impossible just a generation ago. Breakthroughs in technology, connections between the world’s best radio observatories, and innovative algorithms all came together to open an entirely new window on black holes and the event horizon.”
Albert Einstein first theorized the existence of black holes a century ago, and the image (along with others that will follow) offers scientists a new way to study the celestial phenomena.