Event Horizon Telescope to Capture First Ever Picture of a Black Hole
Prepare to see a photo of the truly unknown. The Earth-sized Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) will provide mankind’s first ever chance of capturing an actual photo of a black hole this month.
What is the Event Horizon Telescope?
Actually, the Event Horizon Telescope is eight different telescopes. More specifically, eight radio observatories around the world. Spread out between the US, Mexico, Spain, Chile and Antarctica, the group will focus on a shared target, allowing truly magnificent resolution.
Also, “Earth-sized,” is a relative term. Simply put, the larger a telescope’s mirror, the more it can see. Therefore, combining the power of all eight telescopes gives the EHT the strength of what a roughly Planet-Earth-sized telescope could resolve.
Why we don’t have pictures of a black hole?
As many of us already know, black holes are points in space of such high gravity and density that even light is unable to escape. Therefore, they are truly invisible, or…black.
As a result, we have zero photographic evidence of black holes. In fact, any black hole article, video, or anything else you have seen uses artistic renderings depicting how black holes might look. But, that’s all about to change in 2017, courtesy of the Event Horizon Telescope.
How do you photograph the invisible?
Black holes have a perimeter, known as the event horizon. Anything beyond this point is truly invisible. Thus, a black hole itself will never be photographed.
However, material swirling around the event horizon is still visible. In fact, black holes’ gravity pulls material in, but not all of it crosses the line. Gradually, a thick accretion disk forms around the hole. And, this we can photograph.
Basically, by capturing clear images of the areas surrounding a black hole, we can isolate the hole itself. In a sense, we can photograph its shape as a silhouette of sorts.
How will the event horizon telescope complete its mission?
Individually, no single telescope can capture a powerful image of the area surrounding a black hole. Even the closest supermassive black hole is simply too far away.
However, combining the resolving power of all eight observatories creates a single super-telescope. Now, focusing all sights on a single target allows for extremely high-resolution imaging of extremely small pieces of the sky. Not to mention, the farther apart the telescopes are, the great detail they can achieve. Hence, locations from Europe to Antarctica.
Which black hole will the Event Horizon Telescope see?
Literally, our universe contains billions, if not trillions, of black holes. So, which one will we try to see first?
Obviously, the closer, the better the detail. Therefore, the Event Horizon Telescope will first target the supermassive black hole in our own Milky Way galaxy’s heart, called Sagittarius A* (pronounced “Sagittarius A Star”).
It is believed this backyard black hole measures around 100 astronomical units across (9.3 billion miles). However, some estimates claim Sagittarius A* may be only 28 million miles across.
Regardless, Sagittarius A* is a tight 25,000 light-years away, or 150 quadrillion miles. Again, this distance is absurd to human minds, but cosmically is essentially next-door. Thus, this first target will likely prove a celestial goldmine for obtaining our first black hole picture!
When can I see a real picture of a black hole?
Finally, we all want to know when we can see this amazing, history-making photo!
The Event Horizon Telescope officially “went online” on April 5. In other words, all systems targeted the same particular place and began collecting data in the radio spectrum of light on April 5. Now, all eight telescopes will collect light and data for around 1.5 weeks.
However, eight telescopes and tremendous amounts of collected data means extremely large amounts to transfer. In fact, this amount of data is so large, it can’t digitally be stored. Instead, data will be physically collected, then transferred to the Max Planck Institute in Germany and the Haystack Observatory at MIT in Massachusetts.
As you might expect, sorting through such tremendous amounts of data will then require significant time. Ultimately, after a few months, we will, indeed, have our first-ever picture of a real black hole!