Daily briefing: Chemistry is the fastest path to a Nobel prize

Chemists produce their Nobel-winning work later in life, but have the shortest wait to win. Plus: The first-ever image of a black hole and how to tackle difficult conversations about ethics.

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First image of a black hole, using Event Horizon Telescope observations of the center of the galaxy M87.

Scientists have obtained the first image of a black hole, using the Event Horizon Telescope observations of the centre of the galaxy M87.Credit: Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration

First-ever image of a black hole

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.”

Nature | 9 min read


8: the number of radio observatories from Hawaii to the Andes, and from the Pyrenees to the South Pole, that make up the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT)

1,000 times higher: the factor by which the EHT improves on the resolution of the Hubble Space Telescope.

2 years: The time it took to piece together the images from the massive amount of data collected

8 months: The time it took the data, recorded on hard drives, to make their way from the South Pole Telescope to the analysis facility at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Haystack Observatory.

6.5 billion times bigger: The mass of the M87 black hole compared with that of the Sun

16 megaparsecs (55 million light years): the distance from the galaxy M87 to your house

How they did it

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.

Nature | 12 min read

NIK SPENCER/Nature; Avery Broderick/University of Waterloo (IMAGES bottom)

Japan’s ‘moonshot’ to solve the big problems

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.

Nature | 3 min read

Chemistry is the fastest path to a Nobel prize

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.

Nature Index | 4 min read


How to have hard talks about research ethics

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.

Nature | 5 min read

Data science can build a better government

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.

Nature | 10 min read


“If I had radios for eyes, is this what I would see?”

Theoretical physicist Matt Strassler answers everything you wanted to know about the black-hole image but were afraid to ask. (Of Particular Significance blog)

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!

Flora Graham, senior editor, Nature Briefing

Nature Briefing

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