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This golden doughnut is the first image ever of the event horizon that surrounds a black hole — in this case, the supermassive black hole at the centre of a nearby galaxy called M87. The image is a spectacular confirmation of black holes’ existence, first deduced from Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity nearly 100 years ago. Black holes are widely accepted to exist, but have never before been directly observed. Astronomers created the new image by processing radio-wave observations invisible to the human eye.
“We have seen the gates of hell at the end of space and time,” says astrophysicist Heino Falck. “What you’re looking at is a ring of fire created by the deformation of space-time. Light goes around, and looks like a circle.”
Astronomers strung together a network of radio observatories spanning the globe to create a telescope powerful enough to capture the image. That’s because black holes at the centres of galaxies are also surprisingly small: this is the equivalent of resolving the shape of a doughnut on the Moon. Go deeper, with Nature’s feature from 2017 exploring exactly how the observation was made, which includes the prescient infographic below.
The Japanese government says that it will spend ¥100 billion (US$897 million) on an ambitious project to solve the country’s biggest challenges. The goals of the five-year Moonshot Research and Development System have yet to be decided, but a committee that met for the first time last month discussed how to reduce carbon emissions and create a plastic-free society.
Not all paths to becoming a Nobel laureate are equal. A new study has found that physicists take less time — and many fewer papers — on average, to land a career-defining discovery, but they endure the longest wait for the prize. The opposite is true for chemists, who produce their Nobel-winning work later in life, but have the shortest wait to win.
FEATURES & OPINION
Biologist Mary Allen has first-hand experience overcoming the ethical hurdles of a scientific career: she spoke up when she suspected that the principal investigator (PI) of her first graduate-school lab had falsified data on grant applications. Now a responsible-conduct teacher and a PI herself, Allen outlines how to tackle difficult conversations when facing an ethical quandary.
Policymakers should harness data to deliver public services, urge policy analysts Helen Margetts and Cosmina Dorobantu. The pay-offs would go well beyond cutting costs, they argue: a data-driven government might actually be more fair, transparent and responsive.
If you prefer your black hole news in video format, we’ve also produced this snappy three-minute visual guide to the discovery.
Thanks for reading!