It is expected that the first image of a black hole will be launched on Wednesday by the Horizon Telescope of the Event, probably the most exaggerated moment of the week, apart from the possible arrival of the Mueller report.
The image would be an innovative achievement for the two-year international observatory. The hundreds of millions of black holes that dot the universe shape our existence, which we know from recent research. The discoveries made in the last three years revealed that when black holes collide, they can send literal shockwaves through the galaxies, moving every piece of matter that surrounds us.
However, astronomers have thought about black holes for more than 200 years, and have spent millions of dollars studying them, without seeing them. Black holes even baffled the enlightened mind of Albert Einstein, whose theory of general relativity and its many offshoots was based on the idea of areas with large amounts of gravity.
Black holes "really pushed their ideas because the important thing can make space and time become extreme," said Robbert Dijkgraaf, Leon Levy professor and director of the Institute for Advanced Studies, where Einstein worked. "It's the most spectacular prediction of his theory, and Einstein himself had some doubts about whether it really would be correct, it's amazing to predict that matter can collapse to the point where it literally creates a hole in space."
Dijkgraaf said that, like our atoms, black holes can represent a fundamental piece of nature, and direct observation of one will serve to expand the way our world came to be.
An "event horizon" refers to a place with no return, where the gravitational pull of a supermbadive object is so immense that nothing can escape it. Scientists have seen evidence of these events since at least 1990, usually when a star ventures too close to a black hole. But a direct observation of the silhouette of an event horizon, and by extension, a black hole, has remained elusive.
"There will only be one time in the history of our planet where we will see the image of a black hole for the first time," said Dijkgraaf. "The discovery would be on a par with the direct detection of gravitational waves three years ago," which won the Nobel Prize in Physics 2017.
So, in preparation for what could be a momentous day, this is what you need to know about the announcement.
How do we discover black holes?
Black holes unite some of the most relevant topics in physics: Einstein's theory of general relativity, quantum mechanics, the evolution of the universe (cosmology) and even religion.
The idea of a black hole was conceived for the first time by an astronomically minded British clergyman named John Michell at the end of the 18th century. While reflecting on the discovery of stars that exist in binary (pairs) or triplets, Michell theorized that the gravitational forces of one star could affect the light emitted from another.
This is not a real image of a black hole. The impression of this artist shows a supermbadive black hole that rotates rapidly surrounded by an accretion disk.
This thin disk of rotating material consists of the leftovers of a star similar to the Sun that was shattered by the tidal forces of the black hole. The collisions in the collision debris, as well as the heat generated in accumulation, led to a burst of light, similar to a supernova explosion. Infographics and subtitles of the European Southern Observatory, European Space Agency, M. Kornmesser
His thoughts extended the proposal to the extreme: a star so mbadive with so much gravitational attraction that the light could not escape, which he called a "dark star". The French mathematician Pierre-Simon Laplace would reach the same theoretical conclusion a few years later. ; The couple is usually attributed the origin of the concept.
Today we know that black holes shape our universe. Recent research points to black holes at the center of almost all large galaxies, including our own Milky Way. Dijkgraaf said that this evidence, and much more, points to the fact that black holes are essential for the structure of galaxies, if not for the universe itself.
"There are many, many questions about how these black holes were formed, particularly these gigantic black holes in the middle of galaxies," said Dijkgraaf. "Are [supermbadive black holes] the result of many other smaller ones colliding, or were they roasted at the beginning of our universe?
What is the Event Horizon telescope and why do we need it?
Two years ago, an international group of scientists came together to take photographs of two black holes located in the centers of galaxies.
Scientists at eight radio telescope observatories, which stretch from Hawaii to Greenland and the French Alps to Antarctica, captured images of a black hole in our Milky Way, known as Sagittarius A *, and another in a nearby galaxy called M87, in the one week in April 2017. (The PBS NewsHour visited one of these telescopes in Chile when the project was still under discussion).
By working together, the scientists created, in essence, a telescope the size of a planet built to explore mbadive parts of the heavens.
To cancel the unwanted background static created by taking snapshots through so many different points around the world, the Horizon Event Telescope was badociated with the global mm-VLBI Matrix. This second set of space observatories helped to synchronize the measurements of the Horizon Telescope of Events and to sharpen the image.
This infographic details the locations of the participating telescopes of the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT, green) and the Global matrix mm-VLBI (GMVA, yellow). Its objective is to visualize, for the first time, the shadow of the events horizon of the supermbadive black hole at the center of the Milky Way, as well as to study the properties of the accumulation and the exit around the Galactic Center. Map and caption by European Southern Observatory / O. Furtak
Together, projects can capture a high resolution image of deep space, or at least, that is hope.
Why does the image of a black hole matter?
Dijkgraaf said that the search to see a black hole is extremely exciting because our human instincts push us to look beyond the limits of our understanding. A black hole, also known as a gravitational singularity, represents a place where the laws of physics begin to self-destruct, he said.
"It is a point at which both our knowledge and our ignorance come together," said Dijkgraaf. Looking at a black hole can reveal the place where gravity and quantum mechanics meet or how the universe could end.
"In the distant future, black holes will play an important role because they will undoubtedly absorb more and more matter," said Dijkgraaf. "At some point, the whole universe could end up in a space full of black holes."
General relativity predicts that the shadow must be circular (center), but a black hole could also have a prolate (left) or oblate (right) shadow. The Event Horizon telescope will test this prediction. Simulated image by D. Psaltis and A. Broderick. Legend of the European Southern Observatory
He described this type of international collaboration as a global brain, adding that such projects show the incredible importance of countries working together.
"We see that large international collaborations are, in a certain sense, more stable because they can not be cut at the whim of a government or any research institute. They have a certain inertia, "said Dijkgraaf." It seems very nice that we have to come together as a global scientific community to do this.
Editor's Note: The Event Horizon Telescope was funded in part by the National Science Foundation, which also supports the PBS NewsHour.