Breakthrough is also Portuguese
2019 December 02

Hugo Messias, researcher at IA and one of the scientists involved in the observations of the black hole at the centre of galaxy M87.The first image of a supermassive black hole was obtained by the international project Event Horizon Telescope.The radiotelescope Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA). Credits: A. Marinkovic/X-Cam/ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)
Hugo Messias, currently at the Instituto de Astrofísica e Ciências do Espaço (IA1), participated in the international collaboration Event Horizon Telescope (EHT), which announced last April 10 an extraordinary result and another success of Einstein's theory – the first direct image of a black hole.

The Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics 2020, one of the most prestigious in Physics, was awarded to the EHT project and, with it, to each of its 347 members, including the Portuguese Hugo Messias. Nicknamed the “Oscars of Science”, all together, the Breakthrough Prizes 2020 awarded more than 19 million euros in the fields of Fundamental Physics, Life Sciences and Mathematics, in a cerimony that took place on the 3rd November in Mountain View, California, and televised worldwide.

This recognition shows that our result went much beyond the team that worked for it. It mobilised the scientific community all over the world, but also the society at large,” Hugo Messias says.

Integrated researcher at IA until August 2016, Hugo Messias worked afterwards at the ALMA Observatory, one of the radiotelescopes involved in the EHT project, and helped in the testing of the system that allowed ALMA to function as a single virtual antenna of 73 metres in diameter. Messias participated as well in the preparation and execution of the observations of the centre of galaxy Messier 87, where the observed black hole resides, and in the data processing and validation.

Twenty years have passed since the conception of the EHT project and until this result made public this year. But the collaboration continues, focused on other objects observed in 2017 and 2018, including the black hole at the centre of our own galaxy Milky Way, Sagittarius A*. In the near future, the team aims to grow, increasing the network of stations that can participate in the observations.

To Hugo Messias, it is important to invest in training: “We have to work hard in training young people that will be able to continue our work in the future. For this reason, my share of this award will be used both in supporting doctoral students, and in science outreach centres.

Back at IA, Hugo Messias works now with observations done in 2018 coordinated between EHT and GMVA2, which targeted radio emissions in active galactic nuclei3. He has also been analysing data from luminous galaxies observed in the first half of the lifetime of the Universe, collected in the radio by the Atacama Compact Array (a small part of ALMA). “My goal is to understand how this stage in the life of galaxies influenced their evolution up to the present time,” Hugo Messias explains.

  1. The Instituto de Astrofísica e Ciências do Espaço (Institute of Astrophysics and Space Sciences – IA) is the reference Portuguese research unit in this field, integrating researchers from the University of Lisbon and the University of Porto, and encompasses most of the field’s national scientific output. It was evaluated as "Excellent" in the last evaluation of research and development units undertaken by Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia (FCT). IA's activity is funded by national and international funds, including FCT/MCES (UID/FIS/04434/2019).
  2. GMVA, for Global millimiter Very Long Baseline Interferometer Array, is, like EHT, an international collaboration that gathers the potential of several radiotelescopes scattered around the world. While EHT observes frequencies in the radio with 1 mm in wavelength, GMVA observes 3 mm frequencies. Both collaborations, coordinating its own set of radiotelescopes in the observation of the same target in the sky, so that they work as one virtual telescope with a size comparable to Earth's diameter, can observe far away objects in the radio with unmatched detail.
  3. Galaxies with an active nucleus have a very bright and energetic centre, dominated by a supermassive black hole that attracts material onto an accretion disc around it.

Hugo Messias

Science Communication Group
Sérgio Pereira
Ricardo Cardoso Reis
Daniel Folha (Coordination, Porto)
João Retrê (Coordination, Lisboa)

Faculdade de Ciências da Universidade de Lisboa Universidade do Porto Faculdade de Ciências e Tecnologia da Universidade de Coimbra
Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia COMPETE 2020 PORTUGAL 2020 União Europeia