Recently, experts “switched on” a global array of telescopes with the purpose of imaging the supermassive black hole 26,000 light-years away at the center of our galaxy, Sagittarius A* (Sgr A*)!
The project is called the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT), and it is running from April 5 to April 14. The first results will likely be released in 2018.
The observations that will help scientists sort through all the wild theories about black holes. With data from this project, we will understand things about black holes that we have never understood before. It will be a breakthrough in knowledge.
We know that black holes exist. We never had the chance to see one. We can only assume their existence because of their effect on stars and galaxies. At the center of our galaxy, for example, stars seem to be orbiting an unseen object. Elsewhere, we’ve seen extreme amounts of X-rays and large jets of material believed to have originated from black holes.
However, black holes can be millions or even billions of times bigger than our Sun. Some like Sgr A* is about 30 times bigger than the Sun. Due to their enormous sizes, it makes them incredibly difficult to be seen. It’s like trying to image a grapefruit on the Moon, according to Narayanan.
That’s where the EHT comes in. They will use more than ten telescopes around the world to study Sgr A* in radio waves, with 14 institutions taking part. The data will then be connected to produce a single set of data, known as very long baseline interferometry (VLBI).
The EHT will be used to study the physics of accretion, how a black hole pulls in the matter. It will also observe a supermassive black hole in another galaxy 53.5 million light-years away, Messier 87, which is 4 billion times the mass of our Sun and thus has a more significant event horizon than Sgr A* at 4 million solar masses.
All this data provided will have to be physically flown to two central locations, at the Haystack Observatory in Massachusetts and the Max Planck Institute in Bonn, Germany, rather than transmitted. And due to the massive volume of data, it will take a long time to process everything.
“The data will likely be processed throughout the summer , then the EHT team will be analyzing the results through the fall,” EHT Director Shep Doeleman also said, noting that “we don’t know what we will find!”
“I am confident that we will have exciting data,” he added. “All that said, we should be able to attempt imaging of both Sgr A* and M87 with the new data, but we will likely require even more observations. Results from these observations should be coming out early in 2018.”
So what do scientists hope to see? As the name suggests, they want to observe the circular event horizon around the black hole. This is the region where not even light can escape. The image hopefully will show gas around the event horizon, appearing brighter on one side as the black hole rotates.
It is going to be pretty impressive. So stay tuned for what might be one of the most amazing scientific projects of the century.