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We are about to get the first ever image of a BLACK HOLE





  • It will be the first time anyone has ever seen a black hole through a telescope 
  • We know the black hole exists because of its effect on neighbouring stars 
  • It will test Einstein's theory and could potentially re-write the theory of gravity
  • The hole has a mass of around four million times greater than the sun

By Phoebe Weston For Mailonline

Published: 11:13 EST, 17 February 2017 | Updated: 11:19 EST, 17 February 2017

We could soon have the first image of a supermassive black hole.

Scientists have built a 'virtual-telescope' which will be observing the black hole, Sagittarius A, between 5-14 April.

Sagittarius A has never been seen directly but scientists know it exists because of the effect it has on nearby stars. 

The image will be a key test for Einstein's theory of gravity and could cause us to rewrite our understanding of basic physics.

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An artist's impression of the black hole named Cygnus X-1 which is about 6,070 light years from Earth. The 'Event Horizon Telescope' is a virtual telescope that will take the first ever pictures of a black hole - Sagittarius A An artist's impression of the black hole named Cygnus X-1 which is about 6,070 light years from Earth. The 'Event Horizon Telescope' is a virtual telescope that will take the first ever pictures of a black hole - Sagittarius A

An artist's impression of the black hole named Cygnus X-1 which is about 6,070 light years from Earth. The 'Event Horizon Telescope' is a virtual telescope that will take the first ever pictures of a black hole - Sagittarius A

HOW DOES THE TELESCOPE WORK?

The telescope relies on a network of widely spaced radio antennas.

These are all over the world - in the South Pole, Hawaii, Europe and America. 

These radios mimics the aperture of a telescope that can produce the resolution needed to capture Sagittarius A.

They will kick into action between 5 -14 April. 

At each of the radio stations there are large hard drives which will store the data. 

These hard drives will be processed at the MIT Haystack Observatory just outside Boston, Massachusetts. 

It won't be until the end of the year or perhaps the start of 2018 that the public will be able to see the results

Sagittarius A is 26,000 light-years from Earth and is probably around 20 million kilometres across.

Scientists are hoping the Earth-sized 'virtual telescope', which relies on linking lots of radio receivers, will be able to capture its event horizon for the first time.

The event horizon of a black hole is the boundary within which nothing is able to escape its gravitational pull - hence the name of the telescope, the 'Event Horizon Telescope'.  

'There's great excitement,' project leader Sheperd Doeleman from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts told the BBC.

'We've been fashioning our virtual telescope for almost two decades now, and in April we're going to make the observations that we think have the first real chance of bringing a black hole's event horizon into focus'.

Their telescope relies on a network of radio antennas all over the world, from the South Pole, to Hawaii, to the Americas and Europe.

This mimics the aperture of of a telescope that can produce the resolution needed to capture Sagittarius A. 

According to Einstein's equations, light would be caused by gas and dust accelerating at high speed and being torn apart. 

This means the black hole might look like a series of gold rings. 

Evidence of a black hole at the centre of our galaxy was first presented by physicist Karl Jansky in 1931, when he discovered radio waves coming from the centre of our galaxy. 

The telescope relies on a network of widely spaced radio antennas. These are all over the world - in the South Pole, Hawaii, Europe and America. These radios mimics the aperture of a telescope that can produce the resolution needed to capture Sagittarius A  The telescope relies on a network of widely spaced radio antennas. These are all over the world - in the South Pole, Hawaii, Europe and America. These radios mimics the aperture of a telescope that can produce the resolution needed to capture Sagittarius A 

The telescope relies on a network of widely spaced radio antennas. These are all over the world - in the South Pole, Hawaii, Europe and America. These radios mimics the aperture of a telescope that can produce the resolution needed to capture Sagittarius A 

Sagittarius A is in the center of the Milky Way galaxy. This image was taken by the Chandra X-ray Observatory Sagittarius A is in the center of the Milky Way galaxy. This image was taken by the Chandra X-ray Observatory
Sagittarius A (pictured) is 26,000 light-years from Earth and is probably around 20 million kilometres across Sagittarius A (pictured) is 26,000 light-years from Earth and is probably around 20 million kilometres across

Pictured are images of Sagittarius Am the centre of our Milky Way, captured by Nasa. Scientists are hoping the Earth-sized 'virtual telescope' which relies on linking lots of radio receivers, will be able to capture its event horizon for the first time

'As I've said before, it's never a good idea to bet against Einstein, but if we did see something that was very different from what we expect we would have to reassess the theory of gravity', said Dr Doeleman.

'I don't expect that is going to happen, but anything could happen and that's the beauty of it.'

However, it won't all happen at once. 

At each of the radio stations there are large hard drives which will store the data.

These hard drives will be processed at the MIT Haystack Observatory just outside Boston, Massachusetts. 

Algorithms will then make sense of the observations, but this is a long process and it won't be until the end of the year or perhaps the start of 2018 that we will be able to see the results. 

Not only would it be a triumph to get a picture of Sagittarius A but if there are flaws in Einstein's theory then this image of a black hole is likely to expose them.  

WHAT ARE SUPERMASSIVE BLACK HOLES? 

Supermassive black holes are incredibly dense areas in the centre of galaxies with masses that can be billions of times that of the sun.

They act as intense sources of gravity which hoover up dust and gas around them.

Their intense gravitational pull is thought to be what stars in galaxies orbit around.

How they are formed is still poorly understood.

Astronomers believe they may form when a large cloud of gas up to 100,000 times bigger than the sun, collapses into a black hole.

Many of these black hole seeds then merge to form much larger supermassive black holes.

Alternatively, a supermassive black hole seed could come from a giant star, about 100 times the sun's mass, that ultimately forms into a black hole after it runs out of fuel and collapses.

 

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