First Image of a Black Hole Wins US$3 Millions Breakthrough Prize

9 September, 2019

The Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) Collaboration won the 2020 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics for capturing the first image of a black hole. The iconic picture released worldwide last April was the result of a global effort to form an array of eight ground-based radio telescopes, including ALMA, to form an Earth-sized virtual telescope. EHT Director, Shep Doeleman, will accept the award on behalf of the collaboration at a ceremony on November 3, 2019. Seven current and recent ALMA collaborators are among the scientists sharing the prize.

ALMA observatory in Chile was key in achieving the unprecedented resolution required for this breakthrough. The large combined collecting area of ALMA’s antennas made it the most sensitive facility in the EHT by far, and a crucial part of the entire network, enabling the EHT to capture ten times fainter signals.

The Breakthrough Prize Foundation and its founding sponsors — Sergey Brin, Priscilla Chan, and Mark Zuckerberg, Ma Huateng, Yuri and Julia Milner, and Anne Wojcicki — announced the award on September 5, 2019. The three-million-dollar prize will be shared equally by the 347 scientists co-authoring any of the six papers published by the EHT collaboration on April 10, 2019.

Among the award recipients are Ed Fomalon, Rubén Herrero-Illana, Akihiko Hirota, Violette Impellizzeri, and Alejandro Sáez who currently work at ALMA. Also, Hugo Messias, former ALMA Fellow, and Neil Phillips, ALMA Instrument Scientist at ESO.

The awarded image shows the picture of the supermassive black hole at the center of M87, a nearby galaxy in the Virgo cluster. It achieved worldwide fame after the collaboration unveiled it on April 10, 2019. This black hole resides 55 million light-years from Earth and has a mass 6.5 billion times that of the Sun.