Until recently, the only way to picture a black hole was to imagine what that incredibly dense object might look like or take a look at a talented artist’s interpretation. Now, thanks to a worldwide effort involving hundreds of researchers and eight telescopes spread across five continents, the research community finally has an actual snapshot of a black hole, pictured in silhouette. The image is of the black hole at the center of the galaxy Messier 87, which is around 55 million light-years away from Earth.
The image is thrilling — if a little fuzzy — but how does it hold up to the meticulously crafted images created by both artists and computers in the BBH (Before Black Hole) era? To be quite honest, it doesn’t really have some of the panache, color, or bright detail as the imagined versions. But it does have a black hole, and really, what more could we want?
Still, while we wait for more telescopes to come online and more photographs to be taken, it’s fun to take a look at how we’ve envisioned these cosmic phenomena in the past. Enjoy these five classic illustrations while we wait for the next picture to wow us all.