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EU-funded scientists play key role in unveiling first ever image of a black hole
EU-funded researchers played a key role behind today's unveiling of the first ever image of a black hole taken by Event Horizon Telescope, a global scientific collaboration involving more than 200 scientists from around the world. The scientific achievement – unveiled simultaneously in Brussels, Santiago, Shanghai, Tokyo Taipei and Washington DC - marks a paradigm shift in understanding black holes and confirms the predictions of Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity, opening up new lines of enquiry into our universe.
The historic moment was hosted in Brussels by European Commissioner Carlos Moedas, responsible for research, science and innovation, said:
“Fiction often inspires science, and black holes have long fuelled our dreams and curiosity. Today, thanks to the contribution of European scientists, the existence of black holes is no longer just a theoretical concept. This amazing discovery proves again how working together with partners around the world can lead to achieving the unthinkable and moving the horizons of our knowledge.”
Black holes are extremely compressed cosmic objects, containing incredible amounts of mass within a tiny region. Their presence affects their surroundings in extreme ways by warping space time and super-heating any material falling into it.
The captured image reveals the black hole at the centre of Messier 87, a massive galaxy in the constellation of Virgo. This black hole is located 55 million light-years from Earth and has a mass 6.5-billion times larger than our sun.
To allow the direct observation of a black hole's immediate environment, the Event Horizon Telescope sought to upgrade and connect a worldwide network of eight telescopes across the globe. These are located at challenging high-altitude sites, including in the Spanish Sierra Nevada, volcanoes in Hawaii and Mexico, mountains in Arizona, the Chilean Atacama Desert, and Antarctica.
EU funding through the European Research Council (ERC) provided crucial support to the EHT in terms of funding for three of the leading scientists and their teams involved in the discovery, as well as supporting the development and upgrading of the large telescope infrastructure essential to the success of the project.
These results add to the many achievements of the EU’s research and innovation funding programmes Horizon 2020 and its predecessor Framework Programmes. Building on this success, the Commission has proposed Horizon Europe, the most ambitious EU programme yet to keep the EU at the forefront of global research and innovation.