Thanks to Phil Krause for sending us this article.
Get ready to peek into the unknown this week as we get our first chance to take a picture of the supermassive black hole at the centre of our galaxy. The image from the Event Horizon Telescope could teach us how black holes work and even how the largest and smallest forces in the universe fit together.
The telescope is a global network of eight radio observatories in Spain, the US and Antarctica. Combining their observations will effectively create a powerful ‘virtual telescope’ almost the size of Earth.
If the weather is clear between now and next Friday, each will be turned on simultaneously and point at Sagittarius A*, the supermassive black hole at the centre of the Milky Way, and measure radio waves coming from its direction.
The telescopes will capture sharper and more detailed data than we’ve ever had from Sagittarius A*, as well as the larger black hole at the centre of nearby galaxy M87.
With the telescopes generating two petabytes of data per night — enough to store the genomes of two billion people — astronomers hope to take the first image of the event horizon around a black hole, and the bright matter hurtling around it.
Professor Heino Falcke at Radboud University in the Netherlands, who is part of the international collaboration, said: ‘Event horizons have been part of the mythology of science, but they will become real, in a way. Seeing is believing.’
The images may not be ready until next year, but simulations have given the team an idea of what they should see. Even light is bent in the intense gravity around a black hole. The side of the black hole rotating towards Earth should feature a bright crescent of light warped around its edge, while the side rotating away will be dimmer.
Once they study that ‘banana’ of light, researchers hope it will clear up some of the mysteries of black holes. One is how some generate enormous jets of particles that shoot from their centres at near the speed of light and where that energy comes from.
As other telescopes are added, observations will become more precise, and should give an insight into the workings of our universe.
These include how Einstein’s theory of general relativity, which covers gravity and the behaviour of very large objects, meshes with quantum mechanics, whose realm is the very small. ‘Something new will happen, and I think that new thing will happen at the event horizon,’ Prof Falcke predicts.
Dr Stefan Gillessen at the Max Planck Institute for Physics in Munich said: ‘You might see things that you’ve never even thought of.’ Source – Unknown