Astronomers have long been studying black holes lurking at the center of most galaxies. Scientists have also discovered a great deal of information about them, but no actual photograph of a black hole has yet been produced.
Capturing Actual Image Of A Black Hole
Sophisticated telescopes and instruments have allowed scientists to capture images of the sun, asteroids, and surface of other planets and moons, but all scientists have of black holes are mere artist depictions.
As their name suggests, black holes are extremely dark object. Black holes are very massive and are known to consume anything that gets across their event horizon including light, which make them so far impossible to photograph. A new telescope network set to be switched on in April later this year, however, could change this and allow humanity to have a glimpse of what a black hole really looks like.
The Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) will attempt to capture the first image of a black hole and its event horizon. The telescope will target Sagittarius A*, the monster black hole lurking at the center of the Milky Way.
Sagittarius A* is relatively tiny at about 20 million kilometers in diameter. It has 4 million times the solar mass and is 26,000 light-years away from the Earth.
Event Horizon Telescope
EHT, which is consist of several radio telescopes around the world that are linked together, will gather data for 10 days, but the actual image of the black hole would not be available until 2018.
The telescopes, which include the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA), are connected together so they would function like one big scope the size of the Earth. Using a method called Very Long Baseline Interferometry, or VLBI, scientists can combine data from different telescopes scattered around the world in a way it will seem that the black hole is observed by one gigantic telescope.
Last year, researchers revealed that because of large gaps in data due to the limited number of telescopes and use of radio wavelengths, which do not produce good pictures, they would have to use an algorithm called Chirp.
Chirp would mathematically enhance the radio waves and filter out unwanted data such as atmospheric noise to come up with a more reliable image of the black hole. The algorithm will likewise use other images from space as reference to fill gaps in data.
What A Black Hole Looks Like
The EHT aims to observe the immediate environment around the black hole, but scientists expect that it would be able to get enough resolution to see the black hole itself. Researchers predict that the black hole will look like a bright ring of light surrounding a dark blob.
The light is emitted by gas and dust particles accelerating to high speeds before they are consumed by the black hole. The dark blob, on the other hand, would be the shadow cast over that chaos.
"Maybe we can actually see some of the gas flowing around the black hole," said Katie Bouman, from MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.