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Royal Astronomical Society honours team behind first picture black hole with 2021 Group Achievement Award

The Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) collaboration receives the 2021 Royal Astronomical Society Group Achievement Award. In April 2019, the EHT team presented the first-ever photograph of the shadow of a black hole. Leiden professor Huib-Jan van de Langevelde has been director of EHT since last year. Three other Leiden astronomers are also involved in the team.

The Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) is a worldwide network of eight radio telescopes. Together, these telescopes form one large virtual radio telescope with a dish diameter the size of the earth. In this way, the team achieved unprecedented sensitivity and resolution when capturing the super-heavy black hole at the centre of galaxy M87.

Group Achievement Award

The British Royal Astronomical Society (RAS) awards the Group Achievement Award for outstanding achievements by large consortia in all areas of astronomy. Previous winners are the Planck team in 2018 and the LIGO team in 2017.

Global collaboration

Commenting on the award of the prize, the British Royal Astronomical Society (RAS) writes: 'The first image of a black hole has already inspired millions of people, and will continue to do so. The image represents an important milestone in human ingenuity and scientific effort, opening doors to unprecedented research into the physics of rotating gas discs around super-heavy black holes. The creation of the EHT was an unprecedented and formidable challenge, and was only made possible by decades of effort and dedication from thirteen institutes and over 340 researchers. This is one of the finest examples of an achievement that comes from the close collaboration between researchers from all over the world.'

Heino Falcke (professor of Astroparticle Physics and Radio Astronomy at Radboud University, and one of the founders of the EHT) is pleased with the award: 'At a time when the world seems to be falling apart, it is an important signal that the RAS acknowledges a scientific result in which the world literally had to come together to achieve what seemed unreachable, and to see what seemed invisible.'

The limit of what is possible

EHT director Huib-Jan van Langevelde (JIVE and professor of Galactic Radio Astronomy in Leiden) adds: 'We are very honoured that such a renowned association honours our work, which stretches the limits of what is technologically possible. It is an inspiration for our team to continue to deliver fundamental scientific results in research on black holes.'

Sera Markoff (professor of Theoretical High-energy Astrophysics at the University of Amsterdam, and vice-president of the scientific council of the EHT): 'We are delighted that an important institute like the RAS recognises that groundbreaking science needs large international teams. It is wonderful that this prize also acknowledges the young researchers, who have often made crucial contributions to the analysis.'

Prizes and honour

The team that took the first picture of a black hole had already received several awards and honourable mentions. Earlier, for example, it won the Breakthrough Prize, the 'Oscar of science' and was on the year-end list of Time magazine. The EHT team also received the Bruno Rossi Prize 2020 from the American Astronomical Society.

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