A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away
Many will remember those words from the opening of the 1977 film "Star Wars."
But while that movie told the story of a fictional universe, this week those words came to life—real life. That's because from a galaxy far away modern science captured on film for the first time something born a long time ago—a black hole.
Let that sink in. A place in space that has long been the stuff of theory and imagination, even fear.
This black hole is approximately 40 billion kilometers across—larger than our solar system and about 3 million times the size of our own Earth. And it's located 500 million trillion kilometers away in the galaxy M87.
The image shows a dark center surrounded by a ring of fire composed of superheated gasses constantly falling into the hole. Scientists say the gravitational force of the hole is so strong that even light can't escape its pull.
It took a network of eight telescopes situated in different parts of the world to capture the image.
The idea of areas in space we have come to call black holes has been bandied about since the late 18th century. Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity described them in 1915. And they didn't get their name until 1964. But it wasn't until the second half of the 20th century that we began to learn more and more about these amazing parts of our universe. And now we have a photo. It's an almost unbelieveable accomplishment. Something we should look at in wonder and awe.
There is so much we don't know about our universe. But we are learning more every day. We see imaginary science on TV and in films, and with today's CGI technology it can look pretty spectacular. But the reality of scientific achievement is so much more important—and, in our view, impressive.