The first image of a real-life black hole is on its way tomorrow thanks to the science and technology of the Event Horizon telescope. That's right, even though black holes are absolutely crucial to our understanding of how the solar system has been formed, humans have never really seen one of these regions of space-time with strong gravitational effects.
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Of course, NASA and other scientific organizations have published images created by artists that give us the impression of what a black hole would look like, but none of these beautiful works of art is the real one.
The image of Sagittarius A, the black hole in the center of our Milky Way galaxy, will be launched tomorrow.
Huge international effort
This is what we know at this moment. First, it is really difficult to get an image of a black hole, and the imminent release of the image has taken years of work and infinite amounts of collaborative engineering by scientists located around the world.
The Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) is not a large telescope, but consists of a series of radio telescopes that join to increase its power.
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In combination, these telescopes form what is known as a very long baseline interferometer (VLBI) that is as large as Earth itself. It must be so big because, although Sagittarius A is mbadive, it is approximately 4 million times larger than our sun. It is also really far away, about 26,000 light years. Being so far means that the Earth is not about to be absorbed by its center in the short term, but it also makes it very difficult to see.
Years in manufacturing
The EHT is created from telescopes located in Chile, Hawaii, Arizona, Mexico, Spain and the South Pole. Each telescope has been synchronized to collect several petabytes of data that will be combined with the help of a very powerful supercomputer to create the first image of Sagittarius A.
So much data is being collected that the image we will see on Wednesday was actually created in 2017. The data collected by the telescopes are so large that they must be stored on hard drives and physically transported to the data processing center and combined with data from the other observatories .
Why is this important?
Besides being really cool, being able to observe a black hole will create many opportunities for scientists to examine space and physics in a totally new way. It is important that they can more directly examine some long-standing theories about time and space, such as Einstein's theory of gravity.
This theory could, in fact, prove wrong once we get into the core of a black hole. So stay tuned until tomorrow, when we return with images of Sagittarius A and all the latest news around him.