After training a network of telescopes stretching from Hawaii to Antarctica to Spain at the heart of our galaxy for five nights running, astronomers said Wednesday they may have snapped the first-ever picture of a black hole.
It will take months to develop the image but if scientists succeed then it will reveal mysteries about the existence of our Universe.
“Instead of building a telescope so big that it would probably collapse under its own weight, we combined eight observatories like the pieces of a giant mirror,” said Michael Bremer, an astronomer at the International Research Institute for Radio Astronomy (IRAM) and a project manager for the Event Horizon Telescope.
“This gave us a virtual telescope as big as Earth—about 10,000 kilometres (6,200 miles) is diameter,” he told AFP.
The targeted supermassive black hole is hidden in plain sight, lurking in the centre of the Milky Way in a region called the Sagittarius constellation, some 26,000 light years from Earth.
Theoretical astronomy tells us when a black hole absorbs matter—planets, debris, anything that comes too close—a brief flash of light is visible.
The observatories collected so much data that they can’t transmit it wirelessly, and instead have to ship it using more than a thousand physical hard drives. These hard drives will be sent to processing centers at MIT and Germany, and the data from the South Pole telescope will be delayed until the end of winter in October. Once all the data is collected, it needs to be processed by computers that painstakingly combine thousands of observations into a single image.
Once the process is finally finished, astronomers hope to finally have the first real image of the black hole at the center of our galaxy.
Of course, there’s also the possibility that even with all of this effort, they won’t get a picture at all. But astronomers already have plans to make even more observations next year with even more telescopes.