The stuff of astrophysics dreams could come true on Wednesday. An international consortium of scientists is expected to release the first ever photos of a black hole.
Black holes are so massive they warp space and time and allow no light to escape, so the photo is expected to be of the “edge” of the phenomenon.
The Event Horizon Telescope project and the National Science Foundation will “announce a groundbreaking result” at a press conference on Wednesday at 9 a.m. EDT, which will be livestreamed here. In addition to the briefing in Washington, there will be simultaneous announcements in Brussels, Santiago, Shanghai, Taipei and Tokyo.
Of the 11 observatories planned for the Event Horizon Telescope array, 8 participated in #EHTblackhole observations in 2017. Here is a collage (with older photos!) from the #NSFfunded animation made at @saoastro, to be found on our Youtube channel — https://www.youtube.com/c/ehtelescope .
“This has been our first chance to see the inner workings of black holes and to test a fundamental prediction of Einstein’s theory of General Relativity. Not only the existence of a shadow that indicates a point of no return — or an event horizon — but also the size and shape of that shadow,” Feryal Ozel, an astrophysicist at the University of Arizona who was the modeling and analysis lead on the project, told ABC News.
The event horizon is the boundary of a black hole from which even light cannot escape.
“It’s a dream come true, on many levels,” Ozel said. “Something I’ve been working on for many, many years, trying to build a physical model of a black hole environment and predictions, and the opportunity to study the hearts of black holes is amazing. This kind of resolution in astronomy is unprecedented. This is up to a million times better than some other telescopes.”
The remotest of our EHT sites, the South Pole Telescope, requires the most dedication but provides some of the most valuable data. Thanks to Arizona’s Junhan Kim and Dan Marrone, it is part of the array. (Image credits: Junhan Kim and Joshua Montgomery)
This image of the Submillimeter Telescope on Mt Graham, as captured by the late U Arizona astronomer Dave Harvey, makes my heart flutter. SMT played a crucial role in obtaining the first image of a black hole with the EHT.
The EHT is a global network of radio dishes that effectively turn Earth into a virtual telescope.
The EHT project embarked on a 10-day mission in April 2017 to “capture the image of the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way galaxy,” according to an NSF press release at the time.
“Obtaining an image of a black hole is not as easy as snapping a photo with an ordinary camera,” the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, a U.S. research center, wrote on its website. “The supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy, called Sagittarius A*, has a mass of approximately four million times that of the Sun, but it only looks like a tiny dot from Earth, 26,000 light-years away.”
Even though a black hole itself is not visible directly, it is thought to be surrounded by dust and gas swirling around it at velocities near the speed of light, which causes the emission of radiation that is detectable.