Astronomers Worldwide Are About to Make a Groundbreaking Black Hole Announcement

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The Event Horizon Telescope team has a big announcement on April 10.

A computer-simulation view of a supermassive black hole at the heart of a galaxy. The edge of the black central region represents the event horizon, beyond which no light can escape.(Image: © NASA, ESA, and D. Coe, J. Anderson, and R. van der Marel (STScI))

The European Southern Observatory has just revealed there will be a huge announcement next week. Yes, we know how that sounds – but as far as we can tell, it appears the world is about to finally see the first ever photo of a black hole’s event horizon.

Of course, we won’t know for sure until the press event itself, which we will cover live on our site. But here’s a massive clue: according to the advance statement, the researchers will be discussing the “first result from the Event Horizon Telescope.”

For years, the Event Horizon Telescope has been staring into the heart of the Milky Way, trying to obtain a photo of the location of Sagittarius A*, our galaxy’s central supermassive black hole.

It’s no mean feat: black holes themselves are, literally, invisible – they absorb all electromagnetic radiation, which means none of our telescopes – radio, X-ray, optical, gamma-ray – can detect them.

That’s why we’ve never actually seen one.

But seeing the event horizon – the point outside a black hole at which light can no longer achieve escape velocity – is theoretically possible, although not easy. Spacetime around a black hole is weird; in addition, Sgr A* is shrouded in a thick cloud of dust and gas.

Don’t let that stop dedicated scientists, though. Telescopes around the world turned their combined might to the task, generating so much data that the only way to transport it all was on hard disks sent on planes. And then researchers had to sort through and analyse those data.

Now something is finally ready. On 10 April 2019, at 15:00 CEST (13:00 UTC, 9:00 EST) the European Commission, European Research Council, and the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) project will present results they are describing as “groundbreaking”.

As they note, “due to the importance of this result, we encourage satellite events in the different ESO Member States and beyond.”

“This capability would open a new window on the study of general relativity in the strong field regime, accretion and outflow processes at the edge of a black hole, the existence of event horizons, and fundamental black-hole physics,” the EHT team wrote in a project description.

“Over the coming years, the international EHT team will mount observing campaigns of increasing resolving power and sensitivity, aiming to bring black holes into focus,” the team added.

The EHT project focuses on the two supermassive black holes that have the largest apparent event horizons, as seen from Earth: the one at the heart of our own Milky Way galaxy, known as Sagittarius A*, and the monster that anchors the giant elliptical galaxy M87.

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