Early Wednesday morning, it is expected that a huge collaboration of scientists will publish the first images of the black hole event horizon made from data collected from observatories around the world. Together, the telescopes have created a virtual telescope the size of the Earth itself. It's powerful enough to capture enough data from the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy. Tomorrow maybe we will see all this data put together.
Black holes are inherently invisible to the naked eye because they are so dense that no light can escape them. Instead, all the pictures that are released will be the silhouette of a black hole, a contour against all the super bright, hot gas surrounding these strange celestial objects. It will come as close as possible to a picture of the notorious "event horizon" of a black hole, on the edge of a black hole, where the attraction is so great that there is no way out.
It's unclear what we'll see tomorrow as the collaboration ̵
"Although these events are things that could happen, we did not see any of them before we could understand them," said Dimitrios Psaltis, a scientist on the Event Horizon Telescope project at the University of Arizona. tells The Verge . "By taking a picture very close to the event horizon, we can now explore our theories of what happens when I cast matter on a black hole."
The Horizon Telescope event saw two black holes during a week in April 2017: Sagittarius A *, the supermassive black hole in the center of our Milky Way, and the M87, which is thought to be in the center of a nearby To be galaxy called Virgo. It is believed that these two objects are incredibly dense. It is believed that Sagittarius A * or SgrA * is 4 million times more massive than our Sun and 30 times larger than the Star. But because it's so far away – a distance of about 26,000 light-years – the black hole seems to be telescopes on Earth, as if it were the size of a small ball on the moon's surface, the collaboration says.
To focus on the massive but distant objects, the Event Horizon team deployed telescopes in Chile, Hawaii, Arizona, the South Pole. and other locations around the world. Each telescope measured the radiation emanating from the large plumes of gas and dust believed to surround black holes. These clouds of gas heat up billions of degrees, and because the material is so hot, they emit a lot of radiation that the team could then observe from Earth. All of this data was then combined in a supercomputer to produce an image that looked as if it came from a single giant telescope. "This is a picture you would have seen if you had eyes as big as the earth and watched on the radio," says Psaltis.
It's not easy to get all this data. The reason why it took so long to build a project of this magnitude is that telescopes collect so much information – about one petabyte or one million gigabytes – of data per night. Psaltis says that this is the largest amount of footage taken from other experiments in physics or astronomy. The team had to wait until hard disk technology evolved to save the sheer volume of data the team was collecting. "Five years ago, you could not buy enough hard drives to get a terabyte of data in a telescope," says Psaltis.
What this huge amount of data shows could change our understanding of black holes. These objects are so dense that they are believed to leave an impression in the surrounding space-time, distort gravity, and create unusual effects on their environment that scientists are still trying to understand. A picture of a black hole could tell us more about these strange events on the event horizon.
The results of the 2017 observations will be announced on Wednesday, April 10, at 9:00 (ET). If you want to watch the announcement, you can watch one of several live streams around the world, including the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, the European Commission, and the National Science Foundation.