The heart of every major galaxy is said to contain a supermassive black hole – a place where everything, including light, can be devoured to the point of no return.
For years, scientists have struggled to capture one of these deadly masses on the camera, since the lack of light renders them almost impossible to see.
Now, for the first time, a group of scientists from the International Horizons Horizon Telescope (EHT) project are expected to unveil a photograph of a black hole to the public.
Read more: A 'mind-boggling' telescope observation has revealed the point of no return for our galaxy's monster black hole
The EHT project, which relies on data from a global network of telescopes , began collecting information about black holes back in 2006. The image that's set to be released on April 1
Like all black holes, suppermassive ones form when stars collapse in themselves at the end of their life cycle. On average, they're millions of times more massive than the sun.
The April 10 image will show one of the two supermassive black holes: The Sagittarius A * from our Milky Way galaxy or M87 from the next-door Virgo A galaxy. The Sagittarius A * has been said to be 4 million times more massive than the sun and some 26,000 light-years away from Earth. The M87 is said to be 3.5 billion times more massive than the sun and about 54 million light-years away from Earth.
So far, our understanding of these black holes is based on rendering or models produced by artists and scientists. Though scientists may not be able to see a black hole on their own, they're able to detect the stars and gas that's orbiting it, which gives off radio waves that can be captured by a high-powered teleskop.
This has shaped our common view of a dark sphere surrounded by a glowing ring or a crescent of light.
"As a cloud of gas gets closer to the black hole, they accelerate and heat up," Josephine Peters [19459019anastrophysicistattheUniversityofOxfordtoldBusinessInsiderinOctober"Itglowsbrighterthefasterandhotteritgets"Eventuallythegascloudbecomescloseenoughsothatthepulloftheblackholestretchesitintoathinarc"
Two of the most notable theories about black holes from physicists Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking. Before he passed away in 2018, Hawking posited that "black holes are not as black as they are painted", because certain particles might be able to escape.
But according to Einstein's theory of general relativity, a black hole is so massive and spins so quickly that it distorts space-time, ensuring that nothing can break free from its gravitational pull. The theory also says that these forces create a unique shadow in the form of a perfect circle, i.e. the dark sphere at the center. The EHT photo could confirm or deny this long-held assumption.
Though black holes are not close enough to pose a threat to Earth, they remain a window into some of science's greatest mysteries. Determining how they look in real life is an unprecedented step towards understanding the nature of our universe.