Hawaii telescopes instrumental in capturing first image of black hole


Super massive black holes are among the most mysterious and powerful objects in the universe. Now we have the world’s first image of a black hole, thanks to two of the telescopes on top of Mauna Kea.

This here — is a picture of the black hole at the center of galaxy M-87. The red, orange and yellow around the hole — that’s all the hot gas swirling around it. Scientists were able to get this image using eight of the world’s most powerful telescopes — all working together to capture this image.

“On the science side..we’ve known about this black hole for about 100 years. But the dream has been to make an image of it for the last couple of decades and it has taken pain staking work from our experiment from years ago up until the day to be able to produce this image and deliver it to the world,” said Dr. Geoff Bower.

Two of the telescopes used are on top of Mauna Kea on the Big Island — the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope and the Submillimeter Array.

“To image a black hole which is so so tiny, you actually need a telescope the size of the planet, so we expanded from there. That started about 12 years ago. The first experiment was done about 2007 and then now we have telescopes as far away as Chile, the South Pole, Spain, Mexico. So now we can actually do this because we have this earth sized telescope. But it’s important to know that it was pioneered here in Hawaii,” said Dr. Jessica Dempsey.

And this black hole has a Hawaiian name — Powehi — which means embellished dark source of unending creation. It was named by UH Hilo Associate Professor and cultural practitioner Dr. Larry Kimura.

“We’re really finding a lot of richness and depth in this dialogue between science and culture,” said Dr. Bower.

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