How to Understand the Image of a Black Hole


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How to Understand the Image of a Black Hole

We have just seen the first image of a black hole, the supermassive black hole in the galaxy M87 with a mass 6.5 billion times that of our sun. But what is that image really showing us?

What about the black hole « shadow » itself? Well initially I thought it can’t be an image of the event horizon because it’s so much bigger (2.6 times bigger). But if you trace back the rays, you find that for every point in the shadow, there is a corresponding ray that traces back to the event horizon. So in fact from our one observing location, we see all sides of the event horizon simultaneously! In fact infinitely many of these images, accounting for the virtually infinite number of times a photon can orbit the black hole before falling in.


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