Astronomers are attempting to peer into a black hole to obtain the first images of an event horizon by aiming some of the largest telescopes around the Earth at the same time a single point in a supermassive black hole.
“These are the observations that will help us to sort through all the wild theories about black holes. And there are many wild theories,” says astronomy research professor Gopal Narayanan at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.. “With data from this project, we will understand things about black holes that we have never understood before.”
The Large Millimeter Telescope (LMT), a joint project of UMass Amherst and Mexico’s Instituto Nacional de Astrofísica, Óptica y Electrónica (INAOE), is the largest, most sensitive single-aperture millimeter-wavelength telescope in the world. It will coordinate with telescopes in Hawaii, Arizona, at the South Pole, in Chile and in Spain in a concerted observational campaign from April 5-14 to study the event horizon at the center of our galaxy. The coordinated efforts of these telescopes are collectively referred to as the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT).
“At the very heart of Einstein’s general theory of relativity there is a notion that quantum mechanics and general relativity can be melded, that there is a grand, unified theory of fundamental concepts," Narayanan said. "The place to study that is at the event horizon of a black hole.”
Einstein’s theory of general relativity predicts that there will be a shadowy circle around a black hole, and its shape will put “very important constraints” on its mass and its spin, Narayanan adds. “These ideas have not been tested. The EHT aims to image the shadow to test predictions and to determine the mass and spin of black holes.”
Another of the EHT’s goals is to study the physics of accretion, the process by which a black hole’s gravity pulls in nearby matter. The fallen material forms a flattened band of spinning matter around the event horizon called the accretion disk. EHT scientists also want to understand the genesis and behavior of large plasma jets launched from the central black hole of most galaxies. Another intriguing idea that may be explored in this experiment is the so-called “information paradox.” This phenomenon is Stephen Hawking’s prediction that matter falling into a black hole cannot be lost beyond the known universe, that it must somehow leak back in.
Article source : UMass Amherst. Image credit: NASA/UMass