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Understanding our ‘gentle giant’ could help us fathom the ...

World

Understanding our ‘gentle giant’ could help us fathom the universe’s origin

Black holes can’t be described by Einstein’s laws, opening the door for yet to be discovered theories

Faye Flam

One reason scientists are so fascinated with black holes is that they grab hold of the fabric of time and space, slowing time to a crawl as matter swirls towards a point of no return. That black holes play tricks with time was what captured the imagination of Lia Medeiros, a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study and part of the team that used an array of eight telescopes to create the first image of matter swirling around the supermassive black hole at the centre of the Milky Way.

She was still a high school pupil when reading that black holes distort time made her decide to find a way to make studying them her life’s work. Not only does time slow down near a supermassive black hole but, theoretically, inside it time and space somehow switch places. Efforts to understand black holes could lead scientists to a more encompassing understanding of the rest of our universe and its still-mysterious origin.

The ambitious black hole imaging project is called the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) because it’s meant to peer as closely as possible at the boundary beyond which even light can’t escape the black hole’s gravitational pull. Eight telescopes positioned around the world work together to create each image. In 2019 the same team unveiled a similar bright doughnut of matter swirling around a much bigger, but more distant, supermassive black hole in the centre of a galaxy called M87...

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