Astrophysicist on black hole image: I thought this 'would never happen in my lifetime'

An official at the organization that helped capture the world’s first image of a black hole said on Wednesday that he never thought such an event would happen in his lifetime.

“Many years ago, when I was a graduate student I thought that this event would never happen in my lifetime, so seeing the black hole and the region around the black hole is fantastic,” Joseph Pesce, an astrophysicist and program director at The National Science Foundation, told co-hosts Krystal Ball and Buck Sexton during an interview on “Rising.”

“It allows us to understand black holes in a better way,” he added.

Black holes are regarded by many scientists as one of the more mysterious objects in the universe.

These objects form when a massive star dies and the core collapses following a supernova explosion. The gravity of a black hole is so intense that nothing can escape — not even light.

Pesce said the breakthrough represents a new “laboratory” and field to explore.

“It also allows us to test fundamental laws of nature — theory of relativity in an extreme gravitational environment that we can’t reproduce on earth,” he said.

Pesce noted the photo's significance from a broader, societal perspective, arguing the mass is not just an "esoteric black hole." 

“The laws of nature are underpinning everything that we take for granted in this technological civilization and understanding the laws of nature better is what’s it’s all about and it allows us to advance as a society,” he told Hill.TV.

Pesce’s comments come after the National Science Foundation revealed the first-ever photo of a black hole last week. The government agency funded the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) project, which was responsible for capturing the historic photo.

Scientists said the black hole resides 55 million light-years from Earth and is 6.5 billion times the mass of the sun.

It took seven years of international collaboration to capture the photo of the mass and required a global network of telescopes. Pesce emphasized that both the conditions and technology had to be just right.

“You need to have exquisitely sensitive telescopes — both sensitive in being able to detect that small size and also pick up the emission that’s coming from around the black hole,” he said.

— Tess Bonn