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.

Does the Full Moon Really Make People Act Crazy?

iStock.com/voraorn
iStock.com/voraorn

Along with Mercury in retrograde, the full moon is a pretty popular scapegoat for bad luck and bizarre behavior. Encounter someone acting strangely? Blame it on the lunar phases! It's said that crime rates increase and emergency rooms are much busier during the full moon (though a 2004 study debunked this claim). Plus, there's that whole werewolf thing. Why would this be? The reasoning is that the moon, which affects the ocean's tides, probably exerts a similar effect on us, because the human body is made mostly of water.

This belief that the moon influences behavior is so widely held—reportedly, even 80 percent of nurses and 64 percent of doctors think it's true, according to a 1987 paper published in the Journal of Emergency Medicine [PDF]—that in 2012 a team of researchers at Université Laval's School of Psychology in Canada decided to find out if mental illness and the phases of the moon are linked [PDF].

To test the theory, the researchers evaluated 771 patients who visited emergency rooms at two hospitals in Montreal between March 2005 and April 2008. The patients chosen complained of chest pains, which doctors could not determine a medical cause for the pains. Many of the patients suffered from panic attacks, anxiety and mood disorders, or suicidal thoughts.

When the researchers compared the time of the visits to the phases of the moon, they found that there was no link between the incidence of psychological problems and the four lunar phases, with one exception: in the last lunar quarter, anxiety disorders were 32 percent less frequent. "This may be coincidental or due to factors we did not take into account," Dr. Geneviève Belleville, who directed the team of researchers, said. "But one thing is certain: we observed no full-moon or new-moon effect on psychological problems."

So rest easy (or maybe not): If people seem to act crazy during the full moon, their behavior is likely pretty similar during the rest of the lunar cycle as well.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

Rare Harvest ‘Micromoon’ Will Appear on Friday the 13th

pattier/iStock via Getty Images
pattier/iStock via Getty Images

The first Friday the 13th of 2019 is coming this September, coinciding with a spooky full moon—and that unlucky event will also be a harvest micromoon, Newsweek reports. Here's everything you need to know about the lunar spectacle.

What is a harvest micromoon?

Harvest moon describes the full moon that appears in September. You may have heard that the harvest moon is larger and deeper in color than full moons that appear at different times of the year, but this isn't the case. The name harvest moon has nothing to do with its size or appearance. Many people observe the harvest moon just as it surfaces above the horizon—the time when it looks biggest due to the moon illusion, and reddish or orange-y through the filter of Earth's atmosphere. But as the moon climbs higher in the sky throughout the night, these characteristics fade away—just as they would at any other time of year.

This year, the harvest moon will actually look smaller compared to other full moons. On Friday, September 13, the celestial body reaches its apogee, or the point in its orbit where it's farthest from Earth. It has been dubbed a micromoon, which is the opposite of a supermoon.

When to see the harvest micromoon

Besides its scaled-down appearance, Friday's moon won't look any different from a regular full moon. But its rare conjunction with Friday the 13th makes it an event that anyone with a superstitious side won't want to miss. The moon will achieve maximum fullness at 12:33 a.m. the morning of Saturday, September 14 in the Eastern time zone (earlier the further west you go), but it will appear full and bright the previous and following nights. To catch the mini-moon on the 13th, look up late Friday night in a place with minimal light pollution. And if you want the full harvest moon effect, look to the horizon just after moonrise at 7:33 p.m.

[h/t Newsweek]

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