Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics Awarded to ALMA Staff for the First Black Hole Picture

The 2020 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics was awarded to a group of scientists for the achievement made by the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) that successfully captured the first image of the shadow of a supermassive black hole at the center of the galaxy M87. Breakthrough Prizes are given for significant achievements in fundamental physics, life sciences, and mathematics. The laureates of the 2020 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics are 347 members who co-authored any of the papers published by the EHT in April 2019, including Assistant Professor Akihiko Hirota at the NAOJ Chile and working as an International Staff Member at the Joint ALMA Observatory, and Project Associate Professor Hiroshi Nagai at the NAOJ ALMA Project.

To carry out observations with ALMA, astronomers need to obtain the required observation time through observation proposal reviews. ALMA invites proposals not only for normal ALMA stand-alone observations but also for VLBI (Very Long Baseline Interferometer) observations which allows observations combined with other radio telescopes around the world to form a virtual single giant telescope. The proposal to observe a black hole of M87 was submitted by the EHT collaboration and approved by the reviewers.

As a member of the Joint ALMA Observatory, Hirota contributed to the observing software development for VLBI. Hirota says, “I am grateful for receiving such a prestigious award unexpectedly. I am pleased to have had an opportunity to contribute to EHT, which is a collaboration of numerous scientists and engineers with diverse expertise, aimed toward an essential goal in astronomy and physics. I plan to continue working on the development of new VLBI observing modes for ALMA, such as that used by the EHT.”

A member of the EHT collaboration, Nagai says, “I feel honored to receive this highly esteemed award. Our EHT team is now tackling the next challenge, which includes an attempt to capture the image of the shadow of the black hole Sagittarius A* at the center of the Milky Way galaxy. Our study will continuously move forward. I wish our research will achieve a breakthrough and bring about further advancement of physics and astronomy.”