First black hole image proves New Zealand mathematician's work to be true

The first image to be captured of a black hole has proved a New Zealand mathematician's work to be true.

More than 50 years ago Professor Roy Kerr, now 84-years-old, solved the equations describing rotating black holes.

He says the image released by the Event Horizon telescope, of a colossal black hole at the heart of the Messier 87 galaxy, marks the beginning of a new phase in our understanding of the universe.

Sitting in his Tauranga home, he told 1 NEWS: "We've been waiting for a long time to get a picture of a black hole, although we've never been in doubt what these objects were.

"Nevertheless, there's always this fear that when you actually get a look at them they're something else".

In 1915 Albert Einstein came up with a series of equations to describe black holes.

"He didn't think anyone was going to be able to solve the equations, forever, because they were so complicated," Professor Kerr said.

But 50 years later, the former University of Canterbury professor found a solution.

"Pen on paper sitting at a desk, smoking a cigarette every few seconds and actually, by the time I had finished finding a solution I think I was smoking 55 cigarettes a day," he said.

"Soon after finding the solution I quit, absolute cold turkey, and I've never smoked since, I've never done anything like this since either."

His theory’s dubbed the "Kerr Vacuum".

All subsequent detailed work on black holes has depended fundamentally on it.

"He did this famous work and he became one of the iconic astrophysicists and scientists," said AUT Professor of Astronomy Sergei Gulyaev.

Mr Gulyaev said once scientists had captured the newly released image of the black hole, they compared it to many different theories.

"Only one matched exactly, general relativity, of Einstein and Roy Kerr’s black hole," he said.

Mr Gulyaev and Mr Kerr were both up at 1am to watch the live broadcast of the image being released.

"Just incredibly excited, you know, sleepless night, I couldn’t sleep after this conference, it finished soon after 2am," Mr Gulyaev said.

The black hole is 55 million light years away and the image of it was captured using a network of eight telescopes across the world.

Mr Kerr expects going forward, visual evidence of black hole’s "will continue to get more and more sophisticated".

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More than 50 years ago Professor Roy Kerr solved the equations describing rotating black holes. Source: 1 NEWS