That changed on April 10, 2019, with the release of the first-ever direct visual evidence of a black hole in the center of the galaxy M87, located 55 million light-years from Earth. And a quick glance will show you that it doesn't look anything like Gargantua, the black hole in the movie Interstellar.
US National Science Foundation Director France Cardova said: "This is a huge day in astrophysics". This gas in this area heats up to billions of degrees, creating a silhouette, the shape of which should be able to be predicted by Einstein's theory of gravity.
There are many mysteries about the nature of black holes, including why some eject material in these jets, despite being known as inescapable objects. Situated at the center of most galaxies, including ours, they are so dense that nothing, not even light, can escape their gravitational pull.
The image of a black hole that's captivating people across the globe was the result of work from 200 scientists from 20 countries, including University of MI alum Katie Bouman.
The image shows a ring of fiery light surrounding a black circle. But what exactly is the image showing, and why is the irregular ring orange?
However astronomers have said they will do more work and look more at black holes to learn more. But the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT), a network of linked radio telescopes, has finally managed it.
What is a black hole? Obtaining an image of a black hole is not as easy as snapping a photo with an ordinary camera.
But "seeing is believing and an image is worth a thousand words", Avi Loeb, a Harvard theoretical physicist told Xinhua.More news: Attorney Michael Avenatti Indicted on 36 Counts of Embezzlement, Fraud, Tax Evasion
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"This makes us confident about the interpretation of our observations, including our estimation of the black hole's mass".
The project's researchers obtained the first data in April 2017 using radio telescopes in the US states of Arizona and Hawaii as well as in Mexico, Chile, Spain and Antarctica. "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".
"I'd expect it to be more of a whitish glow that is brighter along the crescent, dimmer at the other points, and then black where the black hole is casting its shadow", he said.
Researchers with the Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration presented the "groundbreaking result" during six simultaneous press conferences held around the globe.
"Today general relativity passed another crucial test", said University of Waterloo astronomer Avery Broderick, a co-discoverer. Unfortunately, Earth - and the vast majority of the planets in the galaxy - just aren't in the right position to see our galaxy's black hole.
"It's a long way away", he said.
The ETH began observing M87 back in 2017, but it took a great deal of effort to process the mountain of data (multiple petabytes for each station) into usable sets.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.