While the world stood with an open mouth, wowed by the first image ever captured of a black hole, University of Canterbury's distinguished Professor Roy Kerr was not surprised at all.

If anything, it looked precisely what the award-winning mathematician suspected it would and proved his half-century-old theory correct.

"It would have been a great surprise if what they saw contradicted what I had found," Kerr told the Bay of Plenty Times from his home in Tauranga.

Graphic / NZHerald
Graphic / NZHerald

The picture released yesterday shows a halo of dust and gas, tracing the outline of a colossal black hole, at the heart of the Messier 87 galaxy, 55 million light years from Earth.

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It has been heralded as a game-changing event for New Zealand science as it illustrated Kerr's 56-year-old theory of rotating black holes.

While his solution was now proven, there was always the possibility of new evidence arising and disproving his work.

"It's science - you have theories and then you discover they're not quite true so you have to modify them."

In 1963, before advanced computers existed, Kerr used pen and paper to find the exact solution of Albert Einstein's equations that describe rotating black holes.

The solution, known as the Kerr Vacuum, had eluded other mathematicians for nearly half a century and gathered the attention of Stephen Hawking.

Scientists revealed the first image ever made of a black hole after assembling data gathered by a network of radio telescopes around the world. Photo / AP
Scientists revealed the first image ever made of a black hole after assembling data gathered by a network of radio telescopes around the world. Photo / AP

"What I discovered turned out to be the only possible solution."

The Royal Society of London has described his work as of particular importance to general relativistic astrophysics, and all subsequent detailed work on black holes has depended fundamentally on it.

Kerr said he set his alarm for 1am yesterday to see this very exciting event.

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"The EHT photo is just the beginning of a new phase in the understanding of our universe. The visual evidence will continue to get more and more sophisticated," he said.

"I was surprised that the best image was not Sagittarius A* but was a supermassive black hole, 2000 times further away, and 2000 times larger."

University of Canterbury Professor of Physics David Wiltshire said it was "a red letter day" for Kerr and a "great step forward" for science.

It would allow scientists to create close-up images of light bending at huge distances, like a solar mass 55 million light years away.

"This discovery, like that of gravitational waves a few years ago, marks another important milestone in understanding the strong gravity of black holes."