Black Hole Selfies


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It's Albert Einstein's weirdest prediction -- that the universe is sprinkled with massive objects so dense that not even light can escape them. Although Einstein was skeptical the theory was true, it has held for over a century. Today, astronomers are fairly convinced that nearly every galaxy (including our own) harbors a black hole so massive that it gobbles down any nearby gas and dust, often ripping stars to shreds. And while no one has seen a black hole directly, astronomers might finally be on the brink of doing just that.

For the next 10 days, eight radio observatories at six locations across the globe will be pointed toward the supermassive black hole that hides in the Milky Way's center. Should the weather cooperate at these observatories -- which span the peak of the world's tallest volcano in Hawaii, the frigid landscape at the South Pole, and the ski-covered slopes of the Sierra Nevada in Spain -- astronomers will collect data at a scale never attempted before in physics.

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The hope is to image the black hole's event horizon, the gravitational point of no return, for the first time. Although it's but a tiny shadow against a glowing backdrop of radiation in the center of the Milky Way galaxy, the image would provide further evidence that black holes exist, put Einstein's general theory of relativity to one of its most stringent tests, and ultimately help astronomers understand how black holes rule over their respective galaxies.

"We hope to see the un-seeable," says Shepard Doeleman, director of this Event Horizon Telescope (EHT). "We want to see something that by its very nature tries to do everything it can not to be seen. It's the ultimate cloaking device."

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This page contains a single entry by cul published on April 6, 2017 12:14 AM.

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