The Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) project is trying to photograph the event horizon of Sagittarius A* (Sgr A*), a supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy. The initiative began on April 5, and it will continue through April 14.
The project consists of a system of radio telescopes located in seven different places around the world, carefully set to take pictures of the black hole over a period of ten days. Astronomers will then create a composite image using all the data.
It is the first time that this method, known as Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI), has been used at such scale. Scientists will fly the resulting data to MIT’s Haystack Observatory, and their findings will likely be revealed next year.
Sagittarius A* could unveil some of the universe’s greatest mysteries
“AT THE VERY HEART OF EINSTEIN’S GENERAL THEORY OF RELATIVITY THERE IS A NOTION THAT QUANTUM MECHANICS AND GENERAL RELATIVITY CAN BE MELDED. THE PLACE TO STUDY THAT IS AT THE EVENT HORIZON OF A BLACK HOLE,” said Gopal Narayanan, lead researcher of the EHT.
The astronomer says the research project seeks to photograph the “shadowy circle” around Sagittarius A*, otherwise known as the event horizon. That circle is the point of no return after which there is nothing but the unknown, and from which not even light can escape.
Scientists can detect black holes in the first place because event horizons are somewhat visible due to the tremendous forces at play on the rim. Any objects and materials being pulled by the black hole’s gravity heat up enough to emit light before being consumed, thus ‘illuminating’ this area.
In observing the edge of the nothingness of Sagittarius A*, researchers hope to learn how is it that black holes accrete or pull in materials to their innards. They also seek to learn, or at least estimate, the mass and spin of these destructive phenomena.
The EHT team will take some time to reveal a final photo
The Event Horizon Telescope will coordinate radio telescopes located in Arizona, California, Chile, Hawaii, Mexico, Spain, and the South Pole to simulate a single, powerful unit capable of imaging the supermassive black hole nearest to Earth.
However, the amount of data obtained by the seven observatories is so massive that it will not even be transmitted, but flown to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology after the project finishes. It will then take approximately a year to create a single image from all the pictures taken.
Sagittarius A* is estimated to be 4 million times bigger than the Sun, and it is located 26,000 light years away from us, at the very center of the Milky Way. Scientists discovered it in the 1970s and it has since been the subject of much observation and study.
Astronomers will take advantage of this concerted initiative to take a look the supermassive black hole at the center of Messier 87, a neighboring galaxy 53.5 million light years away from Earth. Its mass is 6 billion times that of the Sun, so the event horizon is also considerably larger and thus, expected to be visible as well.