Teams of astronomers around the world have tuned their high-powered telescopes toward the black hole at the center of the Milky Way galaxy, dubbed the Sagittarius A*.
This will be done in a bid to capture the image of its event horizon, which is the outer edge of the black hole. Scientists have undertaken the colossal task of gathering the first-ever image of the supermassive black hole.
Astronomers state that to achieve this feat, they would require a telescope as big as the Earth itself. However, since this is impossible, they have come up with an alternative.
Sagittarius A*: How The Picture Will Be Captured
Sagittarius A* has a mass which is roughly 4 million times that of Earth's sun. The black hole is located around 26,000 light-years away. Gopal Narayanan, who is an astronomy research professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, succinctly put the Herculean task into perspective.
"That's like trying to image a grapefruit on the surface of the moon," he shared.
To achieve the feat of capturing the image of its event horizon, scientists will use the Large Millimeter Telescope. The LMT is the most sensitive, single-aperture telescope in the world. However, even this advanced device would be unable to record the event horizon on its own. Therefore, it would have to coordinate with telescopes in Hawaii, Arizona, Chile, Spain, and even the South Pole.
In a bid to get a clear shot, eight telescopes would be continuously pointed at the event horizon from April 5 to April 14.
Astronomers explain that with the Earth's rotation, and with the sampled curves of all the telescopes, the data received would resemble that of a very large device. This process is called Very Long Baseline Interferometry, or VLBI.
What Astronomers Expect To Learn From The Picture
With the image of the event horizon of Sagittarius A*, scientists will be able to further explore Einstein's theory of general relativity.
"With data from this project, we will understand things about black holes that we have never understood before," revealed Narayanan.
The Event Horizon Telescope team would also likely study the black hole's ability to pull nearby objects toward it by using gravity. The team will test out Stephen Hawking's prediction that whatever enters a black hole does not simply vanish. Instead, it is returned to the universe in some form or the other.
However, scientists caution that although the telescopes will operate for 10 days, the results would require months of computation to be even remotely understandable. Even so, if the mission succeeds, then humanity will have the first real image of a black hole at the center of the Milky Way galaxy.