A short history of black holes

Scientists now have the first-ever picture of a black hole. Here’s the historical context

The story of how black holes (one illustrated) came to be accepted in science is a tale worth recounting.

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Black holes have been sucking up scientific attention from the very beginning. They were hinted at as early as the 1780s. Albert Einstein predicted them in his general theory of relativity. But they didn’t get the name we know today until the 1960s.

Black holes were once thought to be only a mathematical curiosity. They were bizarre beasts that squashed gobs of matter into infinitely dense abysses. But bit by bit, astronomers tallied up evidence for black holes’ existence. They puzzled over where these behemoths live and how they gulp down matter. They questioned what the existence of black holes means for other physics theories.

For more than a decade, a team of researchers has been engrossed in an ambitious effort to snap a picture of a black hole for the very first time. Now, they’ve done it. What better time to think back to black holes’ origins and the journey so far?

Physics writer Emily Conover studied physics at the University of Chicago. She loves physics for its ability to reveal the secret rules about how stuff works, from tiny atoms to the vast cosmos.

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