When scientists released the first-ever images taken of a black hole in outer space on Thursday morning (AEST), they probably weren’t expecting to be met with pictures of bagels and Lord of the Rings references.
But that’s exactly how the internet has embraced the world-first astronomy breakthrough.
The black hole has been compared to everything from cat’s eyes to cereals, transforming into a trending meme with a life force of its own.
A team of more than 200 scientists, in six cities across three continents co-ordinated eight radio telescopes in order to capture the image of the elusive space oddity.
It’s a process that began in 2012, steered by the Event Horizon Telescope collaboration.
The black hole snapped is in the Messier 87 galaxy, which is about 54 million light years from Earth.
The result? A black hole surrounded by flaming rings of orange and yellow – which according to some, resembles a donut.
The next step in the process of fully debunking black holes is to find out what lies within, Macquarie University Associate Professor of Physics Daniel Terno says.
“Now the race begins: there are many reasons to suspect (and Hawking’s works were one of the primary motivations) that what is inside is not a black hole, and many arguments why it can or should be,” Dr Terno said.
“Now the game to find out what is in the shadow truly begins.”
For some corners of the web, that question has already been answered: It’s the eye of Sauron, the evil overlord in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, brought to the big screen by Peter Jackson in the early 2000s.
For Swinburne University of Technology’s Karl Glazebrook (director of the centre for astrophysics and supercomputing), it’s the latest development in an exciting time for black hole science.
“I believe it is the highest resolution image ever made, it uses the technique of ‘very long baseline interferometry’ where radio telescopes all across the earth have their signals electronically combined to make a virtual telescope with a resolution equivalent to one the size of the Earth,” Professor Glazebrook said.
“… This is technically challenging, and you have to combine a lot of telescopes to get a decent image, and this is the first time that has been done.”
The internet didn’t find much of a challenge in relating the breakthrough to The Simpsons.
Despite the light-hearted approach many have taken to the discovery, there’s no doubt in the minds of scientists and astronomers across the world that it’s one of the biggest space breakthroughs in recent history.