How to Picture a Black Hole

“How exactly do you capture the image of a spinning, giant black abyss? You don’t,” “You take a picture of its shadow” said Dimitrious Psaltis, Professor of Astronomy and Physics at the University of Arizona. Psaltis is a key member of the Event Horizon Telescope.

Early images were shown in 2015 by The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (Ligo) detected gravitational waves radiating from two black holes that crashed together about 1.3 billion years ago. The Ligo team thinks they have detected ‘primordial’ black holes, which were formed soon after the big bang.

The image above is a simulation of The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (Ligo) showing gravitational waves, which are considered ripples in the fabric of space time.
The image above is a simulation of The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (Ligo) showing gravitational waves, which are considered ripples in the fabric of space time.

The Event Horizon Telescope, named after the point of no return in a black hole, is a network of telescopes around the Earth hoping to see what has been until now unseeable: an exquisitely small, dark circle of nothing, a tiny shadow in the glow of radiation at the center of the Milky Way galaxy. It is there that astronomers think lurks a super massive black hole, a trap door into which the equivalent of four million suns has evidently disappeared.

LMT Large Millimeter Telescope in Mexico at 15, 092 feet
LMT Large Millimeter Telescope in Mexico at 15, 092 feet – part of the Event Horizon Telescope network

The Event Horizon Telescope team hopes to obtain the first-ever picture of an astrophysical black hole in 2017. Next spring those telescopes will turn the Earth into one giant eye when they all point to Sagittarius A*—the black hole at the center of the galaxy first forecast by Albert Einstein and his theory of general relativity, and since then the subject of study by countless theoretical physicists, among them the famous cosmic detective Stephen Hawking. Sagittarius A* is 26,000 light-years away.

 X-ray of Sagittarius A*: NASA/UMass/D.Wang et al., IR: NASA/STScI
X-ray of Sagittarius A* showing the area where the Black Hole is present.  Credit: NASA/UMass/D.Wang et al., IR: NASA/STScI

The 2017 picture of the Sagittarius A* Black Hole might look more like this:

False-color image showing light radiating by gas swirling around and into a black hole. The dark region in the middle is the black hole shawdow. Credit: Dexter, J., Agol, E., Fragile, P. C., McKinney, J. C., 2010, The Astrophysical Journal, 717, 1092.
False-color image showing light radiating by gas swirling around and into a black hole. The dark region in the middle is the black hole shadow. Credit: Dexter, J., Agol, E., Fragile, P. C., McKinney, J. C., 2010, The Astrophysical Journal, 717, 1092.

We will have to wait and see….

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