‘Earth-sized telescope’ captures black hole‚ predicted by Einstein more than 100 years ago

More than a hundred years ago‚ Albert Einstein imagined what a black hole would be and what it would look like – a crescent-shaped sliver of light.

Stars and galaxies in the night sky. File photo. Image: 123RF/ jaysi

On Wednesday‚ pictures were unveiled showing the nucleus of a black hole and “remarkably”‚ just as Einstein and his theory of relativity predicted‚ a crescent shape matching theoretical predictions from him and the last 40 years.

Top scientists explained how they photographed the hole using radio telescopes. They were speaking at a media conference in Brussels broadcast live to the University of Pretoria.

The university had a researcher‚ astrophysicist and associate professor‚ 36-year-old Roger Deane‚ and a master’s student involved in building a simulation of what the telescope would find. This can be matched to what it did find and help researchers understand the data the telescopes found.

Deane is in Brussels to celebrate the launch of the world’s first photograph of a black hole.


“What was is in the mind of astronomers‚ is now there for the world to see‚” said Deane who was part of a team of 200 people from 40 countries that analysed the data.

“This is the extremes of physics. If you want to test physics you go to its extremes‚” said Deane. “That fundamentally is what that means to me.”

In Brussels where Deane was celebrating‚ the European Commissioner for Research‚ Innovation and Science‚ Carlos Moedas‚ said: “The history of science will be divided into the time before the image and the time after image.”

Moedas said it was incredible to see an image as imagined by Einstein “more than 100 years ago”.

Scientists who were part of the Event Horizon Telescope needed a telescope as big as earth to take photos. The photos are of a shadow of the black hole – not the hole itself as a black hole absorbs light.

So they used telescopes in six locations around the world that took photos at the same time to create an image that would look like it had been taken by an earth-sized telescope.

Dr Luciano Rezzolla from Goethe University Frankfurt in Germany said at the media conference the photos were all taken at the same time over four days.

“We had fantastic luck. We had good weather across the globe. The telescopes were synchronised with atomic clocks.”

Rezzolla said the data taken from the telescopes occupied “six cubic metres of disks”.

Different teams checked the data over six months‚ Rezolla explained.

“We had fantastic luck. We had good weather across the globe. The telescopes were synchronised with atomic clocks.”

Every telescope was different so each data team had to correct the data to take into account the different telescope measurements and then combine them to form one large telescope photo.

This data was then extracted and made into a photo.

Independent teams repeated the imaging process‚ making a picture from the data to ensure it was the same and to get rid of human error.

They know it is a black hole because it matches all the theoretical predictions of how it would look.

Heino Falcke‚ professor of Astroparticle Physics and Radio Astronomy at the Radboud University Nijmegen‚ said‚ “We are looking at a region we have never looked at before. It feels like looking at the gates of hell at the end of space and time. It is awe inspiring to me at least It is important for physics. It looks like a ring of fire.”

Scientists at the launch said that with this technology they would make unexpected discoveries that would transform the study of gravity. It also proved Einstein’s theory of relativity.

Deane said the Event Horizon Telescope’s next plan was to look at a black hole in the earth’s galaxy that is a thousand times smaller and a thousand times faster than the one seen on the photos that was much further away.

By: Katharine Child

Source: TMG Digital.

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