We're Surprisingly Close to Seeing Photos of a Black Hole for the First Time Ever

Thursday, 11 January 2018 - 1:06PM
Black Holes
Science News
Thursday, 11 January 2018 - 1:06PM
We're Surprisingly Close to Seeing Photos of a Black Hole for the First Time Ever
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Image credit: NASA

For years, we've accepted that one the greatest and most mysterious things about black holes is the fact that we just can't see them. You'd need one powerful telescope or even a whole bunch of them. That's why the Event Horizon Telescope is actually a whole network of telescopes that spans the entire world. When synched together, EHT team says they'll capture a snapshot large enough to finally see the most mysterious phenomenon in space.

 

That network, composed of separate radio dishes all over the planet, combines its data into a veritable virtual Earth-sized telescope of its own. The dishes are synchronized in order to observe the exact same point in space simultaneously.

 

"[Y]ou need ultra-high magnification," EHT director Sheperd Doelman told Futurism, " the equivalent of being able to count the dimples on a golf ball in Los Angeles when you are sitting in New York."

 

That magnification, coupled with the combined power of EHT's global telescope network, allows the team to see past the gasses of the Milky Way surrounding the black hole.

 

So when can we finally see one? Pressed for an exact date, EHT says only that they will only share images once they're confident in the collaboration of the separate dishes, have fully calibrated the data, and robustly tested all procedures.

 

In April 2017, the telescopes captured detailed images of Sagittarius A* a point in the center of the Milky Way that scientists believe marks the location of a gigantic black hole.

 

"With the data collected in April 2017, the exciting task of processing and analyzing these data is underway within a number of focused working groups," the group says. "EHT members are actively working on understanding instrumental effects and formatting the output for imaging and science analyses that will look for the black hole "silhouette". Before the results are publicly announced, they will be reviewed and further vetted by scientists who are not members of the EHT collaboration, as a part of the standard process of peer-review required for any scientific publication."

 

One question EHT gets often is, if a black hole doesn't emit radiation, but instead captures everything that falls into it, how can something that leaves no visible sign of its presence be observed?

 

While the black hole itself emits no light, the nearby surroundings of a black hole do- especially the gasses that surround the area they're looking at. "By observing this region the EHT may observe structures that result from the strong gravity of the black hole," say EHT.

 

Whether or not any of this means that we'll be seeing that black hole silhouette this year remains uncertain, but considering that the whole EHT team is working on how best to present its findings from last April, it's only a matter of time before those images become public.

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