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Global Effort to Make First Black Hole Image Wins 2020 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics

The Breakthrough Foundation has announced today that the Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration will receive the 2020 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics, in recognition of their achievement of making the first image of a black hole in the galaxy Messier 87. The citation reads: “For the first image of a supermassive black hole, taken by means of an Earth-sized alliance of telescopes.” The $3 million prize will be split equally among all coauthors of the first six papers published by the EHT on April 10, 2019, which can be found here. The Breakthrough Prize release states: "Using eight sensitive radio telescopes strategically positioned around the world in Antarctica, Chile, Mexico, Hawaii, Arizona and Spain, a global collaboration of scientists at 60 institutions operating in 20 countries and regions captured an image of a black hole for the first time. By synchronizing each telescope using a network of atomic clocks, the team created a virtual telescope as large as the Earth, with a resolving power never before achieved from the surface of our planet. One of their first targets was the supermassive black hole at the center of the Messier 87 galaxy – its mass equivalent to 6.5 billion suns. After painstakingly analyzing the data with novel algorithms and techniques, the team produced an image of this galactic monster, silhouetted against hot gas swirling around the black hole, that matched expectations from Einstein's theory of gravity: a bright ring marking the point where light orbits the black hole, surrounding a dark region where light cannot escape the black hole's gravitational pull."


Collaboration Director Shep Doeleman of the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian, who will accept the prize on behalf of the collaboration at the ceremony on November 3, 2019, says: "We set out to see the unseeable, and we needed to build a telescope as large as the Earth to do it. It sounds like science fiction, but we assembled an incredible global team of experts and used the most advanced radio telescopes on the planet to make it a reality. This Breakthrough Prize celebrates a new beginning in our study of black holes."


"We are delighted that the EHT collaboration will be awarded the prestigious Breakthrough Prize. This is a tremendously encouraging recognition of our international team effort that led to the groundbreaking result, the first image of a black hole. “, says the Chair of the EHT Collaboration Board, Anton Zensus, of the Max-Planck-Institut für Radioastronomie.


More details about the discovery can be found in the press release from the EHT Collaboration, here. The announcement of the 2020 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics can be found here. The Breakthrough Prizes, awarded since 2013, were founded by Sergey Brin, Yuri and Julia Milner, Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan, Anne Wojcicki, and Pony Ma. Information on the Breakthrough Prizes is available at breakthroughprize.org.

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