And…it’s finally here. The first image of the black hole took the internet by storm within a few minutes of its release and embarked a major breakthrough in the field of astrophysics, proving Einstein’s assumption correct once again! While the image may look like the work of an amateur, it took way more efforts than one can imagine. Requiring over 2-year work of around 200 astronomers armed with supercomputers and “The Event Horizon Telescope", the image is no less than a miracle in itself.
Key Facts About The Telescope And The Image:
The Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) is a worldwide network consisting of 8 radio telescopes scattered all across the globe. This helps in combining the signal strength from different parts of the world, forming an array as big as the Earth!
The Two Black Holes
The EHT targeted two black holes, one at the center of our galaxy, known as Sagittarius A*, located around 25,000 light years away (1 light year is 6 trillion miles). The other is located at the center of Messier 87 (Nicknamed Pōwehi ), at a distance of 53 million light years. Although the latter being more massive, it appears of the same size due to being much more distant than Sagittarius A*.
The Size Of Black Hole Imaged
Almost every galaxy has a supermassive black hole at its center. The one at the center of M87 is a monster, and is 6500 million times the mass of the Sun. The size of its event horizon is about 20000 million km, which is even bigger than our Solar System.
Enormous Data Behind First Black Hole Image
On average, the EHT collected around 350 TB of data on a single observation day. The data is so enormous that could not be transmitted over the internet. Hence, the data was stored on helium-filled hard disks and was flown to MIT Haystack Observatory to be processed. The total data is estimated to be over 5 PetaBytes!
India And The EHT
Despite being home to two of the world's largest radio telescopes (Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope near Pune and Ooty Radio Telescope), Indian telescopes were not a part of the Event Horizon Telescope. This is because
they operate at centimetre and metre wavelengths and will be completely blind at the shorter wavelengths of sub-mm at which the black hole was imaged.
The first image of the black hole has opened up lots of possibilities for a better understanding of our universe. Possibly a Unified theory of everything? Or a new model for the working of the universe? Who knows? Although the primary goal of EHT might be over, it will continue to push on to get a more enhanced view of the black hole,with it's ever expanding array of telescopes!