Unlike the common belief and despite the images advertised all the time on science TV channels the portrait of a black hole was never made by astronomers so far. However, a joint research developed by Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard might change that very soon.
Their work is part of a much larger project, which involves international cooperation. Known under the name of Event Horizon Telescope, the purpose of this research is to link various pieces of information obtained from different radio telescopes around the world in order to create the portrait of a black hole.
The reason for which the creation of such an image was impossible until now is related to particular physical limitations. For a radio telescope to reach so far in the space and cover the enormous distance to a black hole, reproducing its image, a large device is required.
To put it in numbers such a telescope needs to have a diameter 10,000 kilometers. Since it is impossible to build one due to its gigantic sizes, the astronomers will gather data from several smaller radio telescopes around the globe.
And here is where the contribution of the MIT and Harvard astronomers kicks in. They have developed a new algorithm that can cover the gaps in the data. Katie Bouman, a graduate student in the field of electrical engineering and computer science and also the one who led the development of this new algorithm explains:
“A black hole is very, very far away and very compact. It`s equivalent to taking the image of a grapefruit on the moon.”
Her mathematic algorithm, know as “Continuous High-resolution Image Reconstruction using Patch priors” (or CHIRP), can imitate the action performed by a larger telescope.
Feryal Ozel, one of the team members of Event Horizon Telescope, declared for BBC News that she expects everything to be ready by 2017:
“There are quite a few challenges that need to be overcome to take a picture of a black hole- it something that`s extremely small in the sky. But what we`re hoping for is a full array observation in early 2017.”
With less than a year ahead before getting the portrait of a black hole, all we can do to temper our curiosity is to watch “Interstellar” over and over again.
Image source: Wikipedia