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Black hole photo: Inside the room where scientists first saw it

A new Smithsonian Channel documentary captures the moment human eyes see the event horizon for the first time.

First image of a black hole
On April 10, 2019, Event Horizon Telescope researchers unveiled the first direct visual evidence of a supermassive black hole and its shadow. The image reveals the black hole at the center of Messier 87, a massive galaxy in the nearby Virgo galaxy cluster. This black hole resides 55 million light-years from Earth and has a mass 6.5 billion times that of the Sun.
National Science Foundation

The gravity of the moment can't really be understated, even by a pun like this. 

Yet the scene was remarkably nondescript when a handful of scientists around a small table saw an image of a black hole -- that most mysterious of cosmic objects with a gravitational pull strong enough to bend light -- for the first time in human history. 

There are cardboard boxes stacked in the corner, a lone mug on otherwise empty shelves and eager eyes on laptops around the table.

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Computer scientist Katie Bouman, who began developing an algorithm to process data from the Event Horizon Telescope as an MIT graduate student, presses the Enter key to start the program running. Other members of the imaging team also work with the data to try to produce a consistent, singular image of the black hole at center of the galaxy Messier 87.

The whole scene is captured in the above clip from the Smithsonian Channel documentary "Black Hole Hunters," which premieres Friday. 

Eventually, the first real-life picture of a black hole comes into focus. 

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"I see a circle-y object," Baumann exclaims with a laugh.

It's the same image that was shared with the press and the public via six simultaneous events around the globe Wednesday.

"What I'm seeing on the screen here is pretty startling," says Sheperd Doeleman, who heads the Event Horizon Telescope, which is actually a project to connect several radio telescopes around the globe into a single super-powered, black hole-watching array. "It's going to be the discovery of my lifetime and I think of many other people's lifetimes."

You can watch the full clip above and catch the entire documentary Friday, April 12 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on the Smithsonian Channel. 

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Originally published 9:57 a.m. PT.