The Event Horizon Telescope has just been switched on, and we’re about to get our first ever image of a black hole within this year.
The Event Horizon Telescope’s name is misleading; it’s actually an array of 10 telescopes around the world that are trained on the Sagittarius A star 26-000 light years from Earth. The Sagittarius A star is the black hole at the center of the Milky Way galaxy.
Beyond producing a stunning image of a black hole and it’s event horizon, the true goal of the project is to help deepen the understanding of one of the Universe’s biggest mysteries.
“These are the observations that will help us to sort through all the wild theories about black holes. And there are many wild theories,” Says astronomy research professor Gopal Narayanan at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.“With data from this project, we will understand things about black holes that we have never understood before.” He and co-principal investigator, astronomer Neal Erickson, say creating the huge “Event Horizon Telescope” (EHT) has been a technological and logistical challenge.
Technically, this will be the first time anyone has ever seen a black hole. Astronomers have never actually witnessed a black hole, instead, we’ve used the gravitational trajectories of other objects to infer their existence. Such as the example of the stars that orbit an unknown object at the center of our galaxy.
Another of the EHT’s goals is to study the physics of accretion, the process by which a black hole’s gravity pulls in nearby matter. The fallen material forms a flattened band of spinning matter around the event horizon called the accretion disk. EHT scientists also want to understand the genesis and behavior of large plasma jets launched from the central black hole of most galaxies. Another intriguing idea that may be explored in this experiment is the so-called “information paradox.” This phenomenon is Stephen Hawking’s prediction that matter falling into a black hole cannot be lost beyond the known universe, that it must somehow leak back in.
UMass Amherst astronomy professor Peter Schloerb, director of Five College Radio Astronomy observatories and one of the LMT’s principal investigators, says that since the LMT joined the EHT group it has become “one of the most valuable telescopes” in the array and a vital part of the mission. With its central geographical location at 15,000 feet on Volcán Sierra Negra in Mexico, and its large aperture, the LMT is pivotal to EHT success. EHT is funded by the participating telescopes and the U.S. National Science Foundation and led by professor Shep Doeleman at Harvard University.