First-Ever Photo of a Black Hole Unveiled

Event Horizon Telescope collaboration et al.
Event Horizon Telescope collaboration et al.

This story has been updated.

An international team of more than 200 scientists have made history by capturing the first-ever image of a black hole. The much-awaited photo, seen above, was released this morning by the National Science Foundation (NSF) after the agency announced last week that it would be revealing the groundbreaking finding. Previously, the only pictures of black holes were illustrations and simulations that were modeled after everything scientists knew about a black hole’s effect on nearby objects. Since no light escapes these incredibly dense bodies, scientists haven’t been able to directly observe them, let alone photograph them.

But we now know what a black hole looks like, thanks to the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) project. Researchers linked eight radio observatories around the world to create a “virtual Earth-sized telescope” that was large enough to capture the supermassive black hole at the center of the Messier 87 (M87) galaxy, which is located 54 million light years from Earth. This colossal object is 6.5 billion times more massive than our Sun and has the power to warp space-time and superheat objects in its vicinity.

"We're seeing the unseeable,” NSF Director France Córdova said in a statement. “Black holes have sparked imaginations for decades. They have exotic properties and are mysterious to us. Yet with more observations like this one they are yielding their secrets.”

The ring you see around the black hole is formed by gas and dust as light bends in the black hole’s strong gravitational pull. Orange hues were added to the image because the measurements captured by scientists occurred at a wavelength that’s invisible to the eye. As many have pointed out, the end result looks a little like the Eye of Sauron from The Lord of the Rings.

"If immersed in a bright region, like a disc of glowing gas, we expect a black hole to create a dark region similar to a shadow—something predicted by Einstein's general relativity that we've never seen before," said Heino Falcke, chair of the EHT Science Council.

For more on this groundbreaking achievement, check out the NSF’s news release.

A Lunar Crash May Have Left Behind a Library of Human Civilization on the Moon

Matt Cardy, Getty Images
Matt Cardy, Getty Images

SpaceIL, the Israeli-based private space travel nonprofit backed by billionaire Morris Kahn, came up short in their attempt to land the first commercial payload ever delivered on the Moon. Their Beresheet lander crashed last Thursday, April 11, after a technical glitch prompted its engine to power off and then back on, causing it to come in too fast and strike the lunar surface.

While not ultimately successful, the voyage may have still managed to mark a milestone in the history of lunar exploration. The Arch Mission Foundation, which worked with SpaceIL to put a massive amount of information—including the entirety of Wikipedia—on board, announced this week that the digital library may have survived the impact. That would make it the first substantial repository of knowledge to occupy the Moon.

The data, which was dubbed the Lunar Library, holds an impressive wealth of material—the equivalent of roughly 30 million pages in all. In addition to Wikipedia, there are books selected by Project Gutenberg, 60,000 images, language keys, and a curated selection of music. All of this humanity was packed into 25 nickel discs that are each 40 microns thick. The entire library is roughly the size and shape of a DVD.

Arch Mission Foundation believes that the discs could have survived the impact based on what's known about its trajectory and the crash and is working to confirm its existence. Even if it didn't, there's still something to be said for the idea that "archaeological ruins" of human knowledge now exist there.

The Lunar Library wouldn't be the only human relic left behind. Alan Shepard, the fifth man ever to walk on the Moon in 1971, left golf balls after playing a lunar round. In 1969, the crew of Apollo 11 left a 1.5-inch silicon disk containing goodwill messages from prominent figures in 75 countries written microscopically.

SpaceIL intends to pursue a second lunar lander, with a launch date to be announced. While other countries have landed a vehicle on the Moon—the United States, China, and Russia—this would have marked the first time for a private entity.

[h/t Fast Company]

A Blue Moon—May's Flower Moon—Is Coming Next Month

Matt Cardy/Getty Images
Matt Cardy/Getty Images

Exactly how often is "once in a blue moon"? According to NASA, the celestial occurrence isn't especially rare: A blue moon happens about once every 2.5 years. The next blue moon will appear the night of May 18, 2019, and because the event marks the first full moon of May, it will also be a flower moon.

What Is a Blue Moon?

Instead of describing color, like a blood moon, the term blue moon is reserved for an additional full moon that appears within a certain window of time. There are two types of blue moons: monthly blue moons and seasonal blue moons. A monthly blue moon, the more popular of the two definitions, is the second full moon that occurs in a single calendar month. This usage is fairly recent, and likely originated from an error printed in a 1946 issue of Sky and Telescope magazine.

A seasonal blue moon is the older meaning, and it describes the third moon in a season that has four full moons. Each season—winter, spring, summer, and fall—typically sees three full moons, and in the rare event there are four, the third is singled out as the anomaly. This is sometimes the preferred definition of astronomy-minded people because it's based on natural equinoxes and solstices rather than the Gregorian calendar.

When to See the Blue Flower Moon

The full moon set to light up the night sky in May will be a seasonal blue moon. The time of year it occurs—May—makes it a flower moon. The first full moon of each month has a special name: A worm moon is a full moon in April, and a wolf moon is a full moon in January.

To catch 2019's blue flower moon, look up the night of May 18. The Moon will be at its fullest when it's precisely at 180° ecliptic longitude opposite the Sun—which occurs at 5:11 p.m. ET on May 18.