Star Trek, Andromeda, and Dr. Who. These wildly successful shows have some intersecting storyboards.
Black holes have been the linchpin for many plot lines in film and TV alike. Commonly referred to ‘quantum singularities’, they create the perfect drama-driven episode that we love.
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All the black holes you have seen up until now have been simulations or an artist’s rendering. We know the basis of how a black hole works, and we can have that rough idea juxtaposed to space – a dark, sprawling oblivion.
We’ve never really seen the real deal. Until now.
The Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) project and the National Science Foundation (NSF) have held a press conference that’s had the science community waiting with bated breath for days now. The U.S. press briefing was held at 9 a.m. Eastern at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. It was also live-streamed so all us could enjoy it.
They did not disappoint. Dr. Cordova herself, helping to unveil the photos, said:
“No other telescope in the world can show an un-blurred, definite image of a blackhole’s event horizon.”
At the centers of our Milky Way galaxy and a neighboring galaxy, sits two newly famous vacuums – and they’re ready for their debut. They have been photographed by the Event Horizon telescope, a global effort to construct an Earth-sized virtual telescope array, and they show us stunning results. This supermassive blackhole is almost the size of our galaxy, which is one of the reasons we can see it. The EHT project used eight linked radio observatories around the world to capture this magnificent picture (that, let’s face it, made armchair science enthusiasts lose their ever-loving minds everywhere). These eight telescopes have the optical power 1,000-times that of the Hubble Space Telescope. Here’s a snapshot of where these eight observatories are set up:
They truly turned the whole Earth into a telescope, a mirror of sorts, using the turning of the Earth to put together the image we see today:
NBC Mach goes into detail about how the photo was captured and interpreted:
the result is believed to be based upon a vast trove of data from observations made in April 2017 of Sagittarius A*(pronounced Sagittarius A-star), the supermassive black hole lying 26,000 light-years from Earth at the center of the Milky Way, and another supermassive black hole at the center of the neighboring Virgo A galaxy.
Black holes are super-dense remnants of collapsed stars whose gravitational forces are so intense that not even light can escape. But if black holes themselves are completely black — invisible — scientists believe that radio waves given off by the gas and dust swirling around them are visible through a sufficiently powerful telescope.
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They went in with the idea that a black hole’s ‘shadow’ is what could be detected with a powerful enough telescope. The ‘event horizon’ – what the project is aptly named for – is the point in a black hole where everything is an absolute black, and no light can escape. The surrounding matter around the event horizon illuminates the hole’s ‘shadow’, revealing the shape of spacetime. This is what we can see with EHT project’s photo.These telescopes were on for nine days and they managed to collect a gigantic amount of data that’s taken two years to transfer, process, and analyze in order to put together the visual we see today.
Popular Science Roger Blanford, a theoretical astrophysicist:
Imaging a black hole is a lot more consequential than just having something new to post to Instagram. “An image like this can affirm that Einstein’s general relativity is the correct theory to describe gravity when it is very strong, and can tell us about what actually happens around the black hole,” says Roger Blandford, a theoretical astrophysicist based at Stanford University who was not directly involved with EHT. “It’s the stage and the play.” It’s also a proof-of-concept for a type of technology and observational methodology that could push astronomy to new heights. “Success in making an image would allow the EHT project to go on to make more and finer images,” he says.
The taking of these kinds of photos is vital to our continued understanding of the universe. These photographs have the power to ignite interest in the general public as well. Take, for instance, the ‘blue marble’ photo taken by the Apollo lunar voyages:
“It’s the picture that was credited with starting the environmental movement,” wrote author Jeffrey Kluger, referencing the Earthrise photo in a 2013 article for Time magazine.
With threats of defunding, US space programs may need to rely on photographs that move and interest people. This day is a defining day for scientists everywhere. We have exposed parts of the universe that were never seen before.