The Event Horizon Telescope Will Soon Film Matter Falling into a Black Hole

Live Science | 4/16/2019 | Staff
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DENVER — Last week, the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) released the first-ever image of a black hole's shadow cast against the hot gas of its accretion disk. That image, of the black hole at the center of galaxy Messier 87 (M87), was front page news all over the world. Soon, the EHT will produce the first movie of that hot gas whirling chaotically around the shadow, said project leaders who spoke Sunday (April 14) here at the April meeting of the American Physical Society.

The EHT isn't a single telescope. Rather, it's a network of radio telescopes all over the world making precisely timed recordings of radio waves all together, and these recordings can be combined such that the different telescope all act as one. As more individual radio telescopes join the EHT and the team updates the project's recording technology, the detail of the images should increase dramatically, Shep Doeleman, the Harvard University astronomer who lead the EHT project said in his talk. And then, the team should be able to produce movies of black holes in action, he said.

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In the case of the black hole in M87, Doeleman told Live Science after his talk, making a movie will be pretty straightforward. The black hole is enormous, even for a supermassive black hole at the center of a galaxy: It's 6.5 billion times the mass of Earth's sun, with its event horizon — the point beyond which not even light can return — enclosing a sphere as wide as our entire solar system. So, the hot matter of this black hole's accretion disk takes a long time to make a single trek around the object.

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