Which camera took a black hole photo?

Will the first photo of a black hole succeed?

Can you photograph a black hole? In April 2017 one of the most spectacular photos in history is to be taken. US researchers want to record a black hole for the first time with X-ray telescopes. But what will be shown in such a picture?

This is what a black hole could look like. But also completely different. The picture shows an artist's illustration of the Quasar 3C 279. By merging various radio telescopes in Chile, the USA and Hawaii, researchers were able to look deep into space on July 18, 2012. Now in April 2017, the researchers want to take a closer look and use networked radio telescopes to take the first photo of a black hole.

Photo: European Southern Observatory ESO / dpa

A black hole cannot be photographed with a smartphone. Not even with the best camera in the world. But maybe with a global network of telescopes, hope scientists from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge.

"We have been putting our virtual telescope together for almost two decades now," says project manager Shepherd Doeleman to the BBC. “And in April we will make the observations that will have the first chance to bring the event horizon of a black hole into focus.” The telescopes are located at the South Pole, in Europe and in North and South America. They form the so-called Event Horizon Telescope (EHT).

A light ring could be seen in the photo

And who is the model for the telescope network? Sagittarius A * - a black hole of about four million solar masses, which is said to be in the center of the Milky Way. The black hole is so massive that nothing escapes its enormous gravitational pull, not even light. That is why it is invisible itself.

Burned out suns can collapse under their own gravity. What remains is a black hole from which not even light can escape. The illustration shows the vicinity of the supermassive black hole in the heart of the active galaxy NGC 3783 in the southern constellation Centaurus.

Source: ESO / M. Grain knife / dpa

Nevertheless, the researchers could indirectly put it on a photo. About the gas and dust that plunged into the black hole at the time of the photo. Due to the high acceleration, they heat up to millions of degrees Celsius and radiate in the X-ray light. In the photo, a bright ring appears around the black hole at best.

Einstein proposed the theory of black holes in 1915

But all theory is gray. “But it could also be that we see something completely different,” says Doeleman. While it's never a good idea to bet against Einstein, if we saw something very different from what we were expecting, then we'd have to rethink the entire theory of gravity. I don't expect it, but anything could happen, and that's the nice thing about it. "

Black holes arise from massive stars and grow because their strong gravitational force soaks up surrounding matter and energy.

Source: NASA / JPL-Caltech

Einstein himself would also be part of the excitement. In 1915 the physicist first put forward the theory that there could be places that attract everything and do not even let light out. The term black hole has been established for around 50 years. It occurs, for example, when a burnt out sun collapses under its own gravity. From the mass of our sun to billions of solar masses, there are supposedly black holes of almost every size in the cosmos.

Evaluation will take until the end of 2017

For the researchers, it is the second attempt to photograph a black hole. The photo session last year was unsuccessful. The next time the triggers will be pressed between April 5th and 14th, when the chance of suitable weather is highest.

This artist's impression, provided by NASA, shows a star that is swallowed by a black hole, giving off a tail of X-rays, shown in red. A black hole has never been photographed. A new attempt will start in April. In fact, the researchers expect to see a bright ring.

Source: M.Weiss / NASA / Chandra X-ray Observatory / AP / dpa

Unfortunately, patience is still required afterwards. Because the researchers have to evaluate data that would fill 10,000 laptops. They want to have this mammoth task done by the end of the year or the beginning of 2018. Then the first photo of a black hole could go around the world.

Researchers have long been fascinated by black holes. In 2015, Chinese researchers discovered a black hole that has the exceptionally high mass of twelve billion suns and poses some puzzles.

And how can you discover black holes? Only with the largest telescopes in the world.

A contribution by:

  • Patrick Schroeder

    Patrick Schroeder works as a freelance journalist for magazines and online magazines such as VDI Nachrichten and Ingenieur.de.