Hawaii scientists net ‘breakthrough’ award for first image of black hole

Hawaii scientists net ‘breakthrough’ award for first image of black hole
Hawaii scientists share big prize for this first image of a black hole (Source: Event Horizon Telescope Project)

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The team that captured the first image ever of a black hole has received a prestigious Breakthrough Prize for Fundamental Physics.

The image was produced earlier this year by a team of eight international telescopes, including two in Hawaii.

The black hole with a Hawaiian name, Powehi, is at the center of the M87 galaxy — 55 million light years from Earth.

It has a mass 6 1/2 billion times that of the sun.

Previously, scientists thought it was impossible to get pictures of black holes. But the team with the Event Horizon Telescope Project spent more than two decades working to prove them wrong.

The Breakthrough Prize is funded by tech giants like the Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, and is affectionately known as “the Oscars for science.”

The $3 million award will be split between 347 members of the international team — so each gets $8,600.

For them, it’s not about the money, but recognition for the team, including the scientists, engineers and technicians.

Geoff Bower, chief scientist of Hawaii Operations for Submillimeter Array, said he was “blown away” when he’d heard he won the prize.

Harriet Parsons, senior support specialist at James Clerk Maxwell Telescope, said comparing the award to the Oscars is actually pretty apt “because we see those movie stars walking down the red carpet right and you forget behind that all those people who worked to make that movie happen.”

Some 30 team members are in Hawaii and a handful are longtime residents, like Hilo native and telescope system specialist, Kevin Silva, who operated the JCMT telescope.

"Just growing up I never imagined that I'd be part of a scientific project this week that could make that much of an impact on science," said Silva.

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