Space News Update April 2019: Black Hole Imaged, Falcon Heavy Works, Israeli Lander Crashes


This time spacefans we have the excitement of an image of a black hole, some rocket science, and the sad demise of a spacecraft.


Following on from the discovery of gravitational waves, scientists have been very keen to take pictures of black holes as they are often responsible, but they are elusive beasts, being rather on the dark side! What you see in the now well shared photogragh is in fact its event horizon and was discovered using the unsurprisingly named Event Horizon Telescope. This is an array of telescopes spread out around the world, not just one telescope. They take many images over a period of time and are put together using inferometery that puts all the data together into one picure. Its a bit more complicated than that, but you get the idea. The black hole in question is located in the M87 elliptical galaxy 55 million light years away.

“We have seen what we thought was unseeable,” Sheperd Doeleman, of Harvard University and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said today.

“There’s really a new field to explore,” Peter Galison, a professor of physics and the history of science at Harvard, said in an EHT talk last month at the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival in Austin, Texas. “And that’s ultimately what’s so exciting about this.”

Video Credit: Nature

The amount of data collected by the worldwide team of more than 200 people was phenomenal, with around 1 petabyte gathered per day, hence the length of time its taken to put the image together, plus of course making sure that the data were correct.

“If you’re going to come with a big claim of imaging a black hole, you have to have big evidence, very strong evidence,” Doeleman said at the SXSW event (which served as an explainer of the EHT effort but did not announce any results).

“And on our project, we often think that people like Albert Einstein, Arthur Eddington and Karl Schwarzschild are kind of looking over our shoulders,” he added, referring to physicists who helped pioneer our understanding of black holes. “And when you have luminaries kind of virtually checking your work, you really want to get it right.”

Why do this though? Firstly, because we can and secondly, to check if Einstein’s general Theory of relativity needed tweaking. Scientists can in fact predict what they think the event horizon should look like mathematically, so an actual picture will tell them if any revisions are neccessary. So far everything fits those predictions.

“I have to admit, I was a little stunned that it matched so closely the predictions that we had made,” EHT team member Avery Broderick, of the University of Waterloo and the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Canada, said during the news conference. “Despite varying across a factor of billion in mass, known black holes are all consistent with a single description,” Broderick said today. “Black holes big and small are analogous in important ways. What we learn from one type necessarily applies to the other.”

We have to of course give big thanks to Dr Katie Bouman who developed the algorithm that put the picture together!


In a triumph for SpaceX, this is the first time all three rockets landed safely, unlike last time when the core was lost. The craft was lanced to put up an Arabsat communications satellite.

“Arabsat is a 21-member consortium of Arab states, and this satellite is going to be providing communications for the Middle East and North Africa,” Guy Beutelschies, Lockheed Martin’s vice president of commercial satellites, said in an interview with Spaceflight Now before the launch. “So TV, radio, high-definition TV channels, and so forth.”

“This new satellite will strengthen our existing fleet that offers millions of people mobile and landline communications service across the region,” said Khalid Balkheyour, CEO of Arabsat, headquartered in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in a press release. “We look forward to completing and launching this state-of-the-art new satellite to offer even greater Internet, television and radio services to our customers.”

Falcon Heavy ranks as the most powerful rocket in the world, with 27 engines creating 5.1 million pounds of thrust—the equivalent of about 18 Boeing 747 aircraft combined, thus it is a massively big beast indeed! If you haven’t watched the launch, you can see it here.

Video Credit: NBC


The craft, known as Beresheet, almost reached its goal of a soft landing on the Lunar surface, but due to technical problems, suffered what we in the business call ‘lithobreaking’, which never ends well.

“We didn’t make it, but we definitely tried,” said project originator and major backer Morris Kahn. “I think that the achievement of getting to where we got is really tremendous; I think we can be proud,” he said. “We didn’t make it, but at least we tried”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, watching from the control room near Tel Aviv, said: “If at first you don’t succeed, you try again.

One of the last known photos the craft took. Image Credit: Reuters

The craft was designed to measure the Moon’s magnetism in Mare Serenitatis. It cost a mere $100 million of private funding.

“I am sorry to say that our spacecraft did not make it in one piece to the moon,” said Opher Doron, the manager of Israel Aerospace Industries’ Space Division. “We made it all the way to the moon. This is a great accomplishment. We are the seventh country to make it all the way to the moon.”
Only the US, China, and Russia have successfully landed on the Moon. NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine tweeted his condolences for how the mission ended, saying: “While NASA regrets the end of the TeamSpaceIL mission without a successful lunar landing, we congratulate SpaceIL, Israel Aerospace Industries and the state of Israel on the accomplishment of sending the first privately funded mission into lunar orbit.”
I’m sure we all wish them better luck next time!
That’s all for now spacefans, see you next time.





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  • Bakuhz

    again a nice piece.

    April 15, 2019 at 9:44 AM
  • Lrrp

    Since China has landed and making a base on the moon, I have to wonder if they will declare some area around it as the property of China? Not to inject politic but in a odd sort of way this may actually speed up the use of space beyond close orbit items and get mankind out and about in space…other than sending robotics hither and yon.

    Sad to hear about the Israelis crash landing but I suspect they will bounce back and try again. What really impressed me was the SpaceX heavy rocket and the landing of the 3 boosters. I have to wonder why NASA never went this route. Perhaps this is why private companies are more innovative and cost effective than governments can ever hope to be.

    All in all a nice write up. Keep up the good work.

    April 15, 2019 at 12:46 PM
    • Zaand Lrrp

      The Outer Space Treaty expressly forbids any state or government from claiming sovereignty over a celestial body, including the moon. Basically it’s the same as Antarctica: anyone can go there, anyone can put a flag there, but no one can claim ownership, it can not be militarized and everyone has free reign to explore and conduct research.

      April 15, 2019 at 4:20 PM
      • Lrrp Zaand

        Except the International legal court said China had no claim to international waters in the South China Sea yet they went right ahead and built up reefs there and are using them for military purposes. Try landing on one and see what happens. I see no difference between the South China Sea and the moon as far as the Chinese are concerned.

        April 15, 2019 at 5:49 PM
        • Zaand Lrrp

          There’s a huge difference. The islands and sea lanes of the South China Sea have been inhabited for centuries, and dozens of countries in the region have been disputing who owns what for hundreds of years. It’s nothing new. Since China is the biggest kid on the school yard they’re naturally going to flex the most muscle.

          The UN convened a non-binding arbitration tribunal to try and settle one of the disputed territories, but neither PRC nor Taiwan recognized the tribunal, so it was a moot point to begin with. However, as a signatory to the Outer Space Treaty, China can not just decide to ignore it. They can’t just shrug their shoulders or act like they were there first or had some historical claim to it, which is exactly what each country disputing claims in the South China Sea is doing.

          Either way, no single country is dumb enough to try to nationalize a celestial body. Not even China. It would be the equivalent of placing weapons of mass destruction in orbit, which the treaty also forbids.

          April 15, 2019 at 6:49 PM
        • Garreth Vlox Lrrp

          And China has refused to recognize that international body as having any authority over them. But they have signed the treaty stating no one gets to claim territory or militarize space.

          April 19, 2019 at 7:10 PM
      • Alot Zaand

        While the idea that humans can’t own any land outside the earth is amusing, from several angles, I doubt anyone would react in a meaningful way if China declared a few kilometers of dark side moon as an embassy.

        April 16, 2019 at 7:39 AM
  • Alot

    Now if an Arab state could just crash a landing craft right next to the Israeli craft we could get on with formal land disputes. We’ll call it the “Upper East”.

    April 16, 2019 at 7:42 AM
  • Defenestrator47

    Me: Get up late for work. Ugh. Arrive late at work. Ugh. Coworker/supervisor says ‘have you seen the black hole?’ Me: Bwhhuuuuuuuuuuh? *see picture* HOLY CRAP LIFE IS COOL AGAIN.

    I’m a simple internet lurker. I see cool science, I click.

    April 19, 2019 at 1:34 AM