Last week, the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) may have captured the first ever images of the edge of a black hole. As eager astronomers await the arrival of the pictures (which sadly will take a few months, as the hard drives containing them are stuck in Antarctica until the harsh winter gives way to safer flying conditions), the rest of us are left to wonder: what, exactly, should we expect to see? What does a black hole look like, really?
Many of us have seen the standard artist’s representation of a black hole: a giant floating disk with roiling, glowing outer rings and an abruptly dark center from which we’re assured nothing, not even light, can escape. Such images are compelling, but they fail to portray the complex physical forces manifested by the black hole itself. When viewed through a real-life telescope, it turns out these cosmological beasts take a curious shape.