Gazing into the Abyss: The Black Hole in M87

May 2019

Briefing date: May 2, 2019 (3:30pm EST)


Dr. Brandon Lawton (STScI)


  • Dr. Dom Pesce (Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian)

  • Dr. Joey Neilsen (Villanova University)

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Please join us for this special edition of NASA’s Universe of Learning Science Briefings! We will hear about the first-ever image of a black hole and what we can learn from it.  

In this briefing, speakers will share content about what we can learn from observations of black holes across the electromagnetic spectrum from researchers involved in the recent first-ever image of a black hole with the Event Horizon Telescope and simultaneous observations with the Chandra X-ray Observatory. Dr. Dom Pesce will present the Event Horizon Telescope instrument and observations that led to the first image of a black hole. Dr. Joey Neilsen will explain how X-ray observations can help understand the high-speed jet in M87 and the environment of the black hole. The presentations will be followed by question and answer period. In addition, we will highlight education and outreach resources relating to this content.


Dr. Dom Pesce is an Event Horizon Telescope postdoctoral fellow, working primarily on modeling radio interferometric observations of supermassive black holes.  He joined the EHT collaboration in 2018 after receiving a PhD in Astronomy from the University of Virginia.  He previously worked as a Reber Fellow at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, where he studied astrophysical masers as part of the Megamaser Cosmology Project.

Dr. Joey Neilsen is an assistant professor in the Physics Department at Villanova University and an expert in X-ray observations of black holes. He joined the faculty at Villanova University in 2017, after working as a NASA Hubble Postdoctoral Fellow at the MIT Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research. Prior to his time at MIT, he was an Einstein Postdoctoral Fellow at the Institute for Astrophysical Research in the Boston University Astronomy Department. He holds a PhD in Astronomy from Harvard University’s Department of Astronomy, where he studied high-resolution X-ray spectroscopy of black holes and neutron stars.

FACILITATOR: Dr. Brandon Lawton is an education and outreach scientist in the Office of Public Outreach at the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI). He got his PhD in astronomy at New Mexico State University in 2008, followed by a postdoctoral position at STScI where he used Spitzer Space Telescope data to explore star formation in our neighboring galaxies, the Magellanic Clouds. Dr. Lawton has been a member of the Office of Public Outreach since 2011 where he works with the Hubble, JWST, and WFIRST communications teams, as well as with the broader NASA science education community, via NASA’s Universe of Learning, to deliver accurate cutting-edge science content to learners of all ages.