For the first time ever, scientists have captured an image of a black hole, and a Missouri University of Science and Technology graduate played an important role.

Dr. Frederick K. Baganoff, a research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research, is among the collaborators on the international Event Horizon Telescope project to produce the first direct images of a black hole. Baganoff earned a bachelor of science degree in physics from Missouri S&T in 1985. 

Baganoff, an expert in observational high energy astrophysics, and over 200 scientists worldwide announced this breakthrough on Wednesday, April 10, in a series of papers published in a special issue of Astrophysical Journal Letters. The researchers released four images of a supermassive black hole at the center of Messier 87, or M87. M87 is a galaxy within the Virgo galaxy cluster, 55 million light years from earth.

The images were taken by the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT), a global array of eight radio telescopes, each in a remote, high-altitude environment, including the mountaintops of Hawaii, Spain, Chili and the Antarctic ice sheet. 

Baganoff has worked with the project since 2009 and is a co-author on two of the papers:
"First M87 Event Horizon Telescope Results. I. The Shadow of the Supermassive Black Hole," a summary of the project, and "First M87 Event Horizon Telescope Results. V. Physical Origin of the Asymmetric Ring,” an analysis of the data. 

“We learned about 20 years ago that a relationship exists between the mass of a supermassive black hole and the mass of stars and gas in the bulge of its host galaxy, and that the two systems evolve together in each galaxy,” says Baganoff. “We also know that when a supermassive black hole is in an active phase, furiously accreting matter, powerful particle jets are launched along the poles of its spin axis. The jets heat molecular gas in their host galaxy and eventually inhibit or turn off star formation until the supermassive black hole becomes starved for fuel and re-enters a quiescent phase. 

“Supermassive black holes act as regulators of star formation, which they depend on for future growth, intimately tying the structure and evolution of each galaxy to its supermassive black hole,” he says. 

When Baganoff entered the EHT project, he was also lead researcher for the team that discovered the flaring of Sagittarius A*, the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way Galaxy. Baganoff was also part of a team lead by Dr. Sheperd Doeleman who submitted the scientific case for building the EHT to the National Research Council (NRC). Their proposal became a priority of the NRC’s 2010 Astronomy and Astrophysics Decadal Survey, which drives the funding priorities for new telescopes, observatories and computational facilities for U.S. astronomy and astrophysics advancements for the subsequent 10 years.

“We are honored and delighted that Dr. Baganoff spent his undergraduate years in Missouri S&T’s physics department and was a recipient of the University of Missouri Curators’ Scholarship,” says Dr. Stephen Roberts, vice provost and dean of the College of Arts, Sciences, and Business. “Missouri S&T continues to build on its impressive legacy of space science.”

S&T recently expanded its astrophysics program by joining the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) Scientific Collaboration of researchers dedicated to detecting cosmic gravitational waves. This research explores the fundamental physics of gravity using the emerging field of gravitational wave science as a tool for astronomical discovery.

Leading S&T’s new astrophysics initiative are newly hired physics faculty Dr. Marco Cavaglia and Dr. Shun Saito. The program will train scientists who will extend the legacy established by alumni such as Baganoff; NASA astronauts Thomas Akers, Dr. Janet Kavandi and Dr. Sandra Magnus; NASA scientists Ron Epps and Paul Blackmon; and university faculty Dr. John Asher Johnson of Harvard University.