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NASA concept of a black hole

Black holes are elusive and powerful regions of space. They have inspired sci-fi writers, scientists and space fans to peer into the deepest mysteries of the universe. 

Nothing, not even light, can escape from a black hole's strong gravitational field. We have wondered and speculated what they might look like, and we now have a better idea than ever before.

Most of our pictures of what black holes look like come from artist concepts, like this one released by NASA in 2015. This image is communicating the idea of black holes blasting out radiation and high-speed winds. This artwork is based on an image of the Pinwheel Galaxy snapped by the Hubble Space Telescope.

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Large Millimeter Telescope

The Large Millimeter Telescope Alfonso Serrano in Mexico was one of eight that collaborated to deliver the first ever black hole image as part of the Event Horizon Telescope project. The collaboration essentially created an array as wide as the Earth.

The group also looked at Sagittarius A*, the black hole at the center of the Milky Way galaxy, but hasn't produced an image of it.

Published:Caption:Photo:Large Millimeter Telescope Alfonso Serrano
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First image of a black hole

This is it. The real deal. Scientists and artists have created many visualizations of black holes, but on April 10, 2019, the Event Horizon Telescope project unveiled the first direct visual evidence of a supermassive black hole and its shadow.

The black hole resides at the center of Messier 87, a massive galaxy in the nearby Virgo galaxy cluster.

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Published:Caption:Photo:National Science Foundation
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Google Doodle black hole

The first black hole image wowed the internet and sparked both jokes and tributes. Google celebrated by unveiling an animation of the black hole in action, sucking down the Google letters.

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Published:Caption:Photo:Google screenshot by Amanda Kooser/CNET
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Milky Way center

How many telescopes does it take to get to the center of the Milky Way? NASA used its Chandra X-ray Observatory to capture this image of the middle of our galaxy. There's a supermassive black hole called Sagittarius A* lurking there.

Published:Caption:Photo:NASA/CXC/MIT/F.K. Baganoff et al.
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Supermassive black hole in our galaxy

Scientists long suspected a black hole is hiding out in the middle of our very own Milky Way galaxy. In late 2018, they finally confirmed it. A group of European scientists observed flares of radiation coming from Sagittarius A*.

This illustration shows what the supermassive black hole might look like.

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Published:Caption:Photo:Robin Dienel/Carnegie Institution for Science
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Cygnus X-1 reaches for the star

Cygnus X-1 is a stellar-mass black hole located in the Milky Way that was likely created from the collapse of a massive star. This illustration depicts the black hole pulling material from its companion star.

"This material forms a disk (shown in red and orange) that rotates around the black hole before falling into it or being redirected away from the black hole in the form of powerful jets," NASA said in 2011.

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Imagining black holes

The European Southern Observatory put together this visualization of Sagittarius A* using "data from simulations of orbital motions of gas swirling around at about 30% of the speed of light on a circular orbit around the black hole."

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Black holes flare

Astronomers used NASA space telescopes to learn more about how black holes flare. The telescopes detected a supermassive black hole erupting with X-ray light. This NASA artist's illustration depicts an eye-catching view of a black hole.

"The results suggest that supermassive black holes send out beams of X-rays when their surrounding coronas -- sources of extremely energetic particles -- shoot, or launch, away from the black holes," NASA reported in 2015.

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Tempest in a teacup

This teacup-shaped formation appears in a galaxy where NASA said a "storm is raging." The stormy source is a supermassive black hole.

"As matter in the central regions of the galaxy is pulled toward the black hole, it is energized by the strong gravity and magnetic fields near the black hole," said NASA. "The infalling material produces more radiation than all the stars in the host galaxy."

Published:Caption:Photo:X-ray: NASA/CXC/Univ. of Cambridge/G. Lansbury et al; Optical: NASA/STScI/W. Keel et al.
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It's a gas, gas, gas

The Milky Way's own supermassive black hole Sagittarius A* has a ring of gases around it. The ALMA observatory was able to image the cool, nebulous gases and shared the view in June 2019.

The red areas show hydrogen gas moving away relative to Earth, while the blue portion represents gas moving toward us. The crosshair is the black hole's location.

"This information will provide new insights into the ways that black holes devour matter and the complex interplay between a black hole and its galactic neighborhood," the National Radio Astronomy Observatory said.

Published:Caption:Photo:ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), E.M. Murchikova; NRAO/AUI/NSF, S. Dagnello
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Spin me right round

The V404 Cygni black hole is an oddball. Scientists revealed in early 2019 this black hole is spitting out bright jet beams of matter into space at different angles. The jets seem to be rotating, giving the black hole a wobble like a spinning top. This artist's impression shows the V404 Cygni system and the accretion disk around the black hole.

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Black hole 'spaghettifies' a star

The European Space Agency's Hubble Space Telescope site shared this doozy of an illustration in late 2016, saying, "The artist's impression depicts a Sun-like star close to a rapidly spinning supermassive black hole, with a mass of about 100 million times the mass of the Sun, in the center of a distant galaxy." The gravitational pull of the black hole is shredding the star.

Published:Caption:Photo:ESA/Hubble, ESO, M. Kornmesser
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Slice of a black hole simulation

This colorful image shows how a supercomputer looked at a black hole through a simulation. Researchers unveiled the results of the simulation in June 2019. It was aimed at investigating a theory that says the inner-most region of a spinning black hole would eventually align with the hole's equatorial plane.

In this image, the accretion disk (red) aligns along the equatorial plane of the black hole (white center circle). The researchers called this the most-detailed simulation of a black hole to date.

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Published:Caption:Photo:Sasha Tchekhovskoy/Northwestern University/Matthew Liska/University of Amsterdam
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NASA hunts for a black hole

Data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and other telescopes sent astronomers on a 2017 hunt for a supermassive black hole that may be moving. NASA described it as a "renegade black hole" that may have been formed by two smaller black holes colliding and merging.

This illustration hints at what this black hole might look like.

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Cold quasars

Black holes are usually found at the center of galaxies, so what happens to the monster space beasts when two galaxies collide? They merge.

Recent evidence suggests that this process results in the formation of a "cold quasar" which blows out all the gas and dust in the galaxy, but remains ringed by an area of star-forming debris. The black hole is responsible for "quenching" the galaxies star-forming abilities, so cold quasars are actually regions in space on the brink of death.

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Published:Caption:Photo:Michelle Vigeant
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