The First-Ever Picture of a Black Hole Has Yet to be Taken

Wednesday, 08 June 2016 - 7:50AM
Astronomy
Black Holes
Wednesday, 08 June 2016 - 7:50AM
The First-Ever Picture of a Black Hole Has Yet to be Taken
You know what a black hole looks like, right? The name itself is practically a dead giveaway - it's black, it's a hole in space, etc. You've probably even seen pictures that included some kind of awesome, colorful, cosmic vortex. 

But, as it turns out, everything you thought you knew about what a black hole looks like is wrong. The truth is, these "pictures" are just dolled-up representations of our best assumptions about the nature of black holes - because even light itself can't escape once it's fallen past the event horizon. Add to that the fact that black holes are light years away from Earth, and you get a space phenomena that is almost entirely invisible.



Luckily, MIT grad student Katie Bouman and her team have developed an algorithm that could finally show us an actual photo of a real black hole. "A black hole is very, very far away and very compact," Bouman said in a statement. "To imagine something this small means that we would need a telescope with a 10,000- kilometer diameter, which is not practical because the diameter of Earth is not even 13,000 kilometers." She equates taking a picture of a black hole in the center of the Milky Way to "taking an image of a grapefruit on the moon, but with a radio telescope." 

Since that option is clearly impossible, Bouman and her team have come up with an algorithm called CHIRP, which stands for continuous high-resolution image reconstruction using patch priors. CHIRP stitches together data gathered by the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) array - a series of radio telescopes from around the world that can penetrate through galactic dust. 

The plan is to point these telescopes at Sagittarius A, the black hole in the middle of the Milky Way Galaxy, filtering out as much noise as possible, and using the algorithm to make an informed "guess" in places that the telescope can't access. Bouman and her team are expected to present their plan on June 27, at the Conference on Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition. We look forward to seeing the results.
Science
Space
Astronomy
Black Holes

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