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Scientists prepare to capture the first-ever picture of a black hole

Illustration for article titled Scientists prepare to capture the first-ever picture of a black hole

Tomorrow, astronomers and physicists from around the word will convene in Tucson, Arizona to discuss the Event Horizon Telescope Project — a global network of 50 radio telescopes that together could soon enable us to photograph the black hole at the center of our galaxy.

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"What is great about the [black hole] in the center of the Milky Way is that [it is] big enough and close enough," explains astronomer Dan Marrone, who co-organized the international meeting with astrophysicist Dimitrios Psaltis. "There are bigger ones in other galaxies, and there are closer ones, but they're smaller. Ours is just the right combination of size and distance."

Having said that, it's still going to take just about everything we've got to get our black hole in-frame.

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"To see something that small and that far away, you need a very big telescope, and the biggest telescope you can make on Earth is to turn the whole planet into a telescope," Marrone said.

A telescope the size of Earth snapping the first photos in history of the insatiable, inescapable region of spacetime at the center of our galaxy? Mark us down as "too excited for words," please.

[Via NY Daily News + UA News]
Top image is a simulation of swirling plasma, entering the black hole at the center of our galaxy — by Scott Noble/RIT

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DISCUSSION

Corpore Metal

This is in answer to bluestreak108's question below. I would have replied directly but, once again Gawker server madness thwarts me from doing so.

Anyway,

"is 'photograph' the right word here? We aren't capturing an image of light, correct?"

Yes, "photograph" is the right word to use. Because an image can be resolved and we using radio light. Radio is light even if it's invisible to humans.

The other thing to understand here is a telescope is limited by it's light gathering power. The bigger the telescope, the more light it can gather and the better pictures it can take. This is one of the reasons why our telescopes get bigger and bigger and are now built with multiple mirrors to get still larger.

But this trick with multiple mirrors doesn't have to restricted to keeping all those mirrors in one building or even nearby. In fact it is possible to have several optical telescopes across the planet working in tandem to take a picture of the same object. Working together this way, the light gathering power is increased and this gives us even higher resolution and an even better picture. (There are limitations but in general that's the idea.)

The network of radio telescopes by working in together in a phased array is something like having one radio dish the size of the entire Earth with the equivalent light gathering and resolving power. True, having the entire Earth covered with radio dishes would improve the resolution still further, but even with only 50 the group works better than any single dish would alone.

So yes, with 50 radio telescopes working together we can see things in radio light better than any one of those 'scopes could alone.