The team behind the first ever image of a black hole has been awarded the 2020 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics.
The $3 million prize will be shared among the 347 scientists at the Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration who authored the series of six papers detailing the achievement, which were published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters in April this year.
Collaboration Director Shep Doeleman of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said: "We set out to see the unseeable, and we needed to build a telescope as large as the Earth to do it.
“It sounds like science fiction, but we assembled an incredible global team of experts and used the most advanced radio telescopes on the planet to make it a reality. This Breakthrough Prize celebrates a new beginning in our study of black holes."
The award-winning image shows a black hole at the centre of Messier 87, a galaxy in the nearby Virgo galaxy cluster. It resides 55 million light years from Earth and has a mass 6.5 billion times that of the Sun.
It shows a fiery ring-like structure consisting of gas and dust around a dark central region, the black hole itself, which is technically unseeable.
As no single telescope is powerful enough to catch an image of the black hole, the Event Horizon Telescope consists of a network of eight telescopes at high altitudes around the world, in California, Hawaii, Mexico, Arizona, Sierra Nevada, the French Alps, the Chilean Atacama Desert and Antarctica.
The Breakthrough Prizes were first awarded in 2012 for recognition of outstanding contributions in life sciences, fundamental physics and mathematics. Among the winners of the life sciences category were Jeffrey M Friedman of Rockefeller University for the discovery of an endocrine system and David Julius of UC San Francisco for discovering cellular signalling mechanisms underlying pain sensation.
Alex Eskin of the University of Chicago, meanwhile, won the prize for mathematics for discoveries in dynamics of moduli spaces.
The new laureates will be recognised at the awards ceremony on November 3 at NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California.