The world is finally about to see a black hole, not an artistic impression or a computer generated image, but reality.
In six press conferences around the world scheduled for 1300 GMT (0900 ET) on Wednesday, scientists will reveal the first results of the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT), designed specifically for that purpose.
It has been a long wait.
Of all the forces in the Universe that we can not see, including dark energy and dark matter, none has frustrated human curiosity as much as the invisible, star-eating monsters known as black holes.
However, the phenomena are so powerful that nothing close, not even light, can escape its gravitational force.
"Over the years, we accumulate indirect observational evidence," said Paul McNamara, an astrophysicist with the European Space Agency and project scientist for the LISA mission who will track the mbadive mergers of black holes from space.
In September 2015, for example, LIGO gravitational wave detectors in the United States measured two black holes crushing together.
"X-rays, radio waves, light, all point to very compact objects, and gravitational waves confirmed that they are really black holes, even if we have never seen one," McNamara told AFP.
Two candidates are competing to be in the first image.
Bettors favor Sagittarius A *, the black hole at the center of our own spiral galaxy, the Milky Way.
Sag A * is four million times the mbad of our Sun and about 24 million kilometers wide.
That may seem like a big goal, but for the set of telescopes on Earth about 26,000 light years away (245 billion kilometers), it's like trying to photograph a golf ball on the Moon.
The other candidate is 1,500 times more mbadive, installed in a distant elliptical galaxy known as M87.
By comparing the two, the distance and size are balanced, which makes it more or less easy to identify.
Ripples in time-space
A black hole is a celestial object that compresses a huge mbad into an extremely small space. The more mbad, the bigger the black hole.
On the same scale of compression, the mbad of the Earth would fit inside a thimble, while that of the Sun would be only six kilometers from edge to edge.
There are two kinds.
Garden variety black holes, up to 20 times more mbadive than the Sun, are formed when the center of a very large star collapses on itself.
The so-called supermbadive black holes are at least a million times larger than the Sun. Both Sag A * and M87 fall into this category.
The EHT is different from any star-watching instrument ever designed.
"Instead of building a giant telescope, we combined several observatories as if they were fragments of a giant mirror," Michael Bremer, an astronomer at the Grenoble Millimeter Radioastronomy Institute, told AFP.
Eight of these radio telescopes scattered around the world, in Hawaii, Arizona, Spain, Mexico, Chile and the South Pole, were reduced to zero in Sag A * and M87 on four different days in April 2017.
Each one is at least a large football field. Together, they form a virtual telescope more than 12,000 kilometers in diameter, the diameter of the Earth.
The data collected by the remote set was collected by supercomputers at MIT in Boston and Bonn, Germany.
"The image creation algorithms we develop fill in the missing data gaps to reconstruct an image," the team said on its website.
Astrophysicists not involved in the project, including McNamara, are anxious, perhaps anxious, waiting to see if the findings challenge Einstein's theory of general relativity, which has never been tested on this scale.
The LIGO experiments from 2015 detected distinctive ripples in the curvatures of space-time during the fusion of the black hole.
"Einstein's theory of general relativity says that this is exactly what should happen," said McNamara.
But those were small black holes compared to any of those that were under the EHT's gaze.
"Maybe those that are millions of times more mbadive are different, we just do not know yet," said McNamara.
Scientists are preparing to reveal the first image of a black hole
© 2019 AFP
Scientists are ready to reveal the first true image of the black hole (2019, April 10)
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