Radio telescopes around the globe were used in April 2017 to conduct a fantastic feat: two supermassive black holes were observed all together. This was the Horizon Telescope event and the first outcomes, released back in April, gave us the very first image of one of these new artifacts.
The National Science Foundation has granted a $12.7 million grant to the cooperation to schedule the next-generation Horizon Telescope (ngEHT) event. It will use the funds to improve the current design. The telescope is currently being produced by linking current installations worldwide. This technique, which is known as interferometry, allows astronomers to have a radio telescope that is effectively the size of the Earth.
Led by Principal Investigator Shep Doeleman at the Center for Astrophysics at Harvard, and Smithsonian (CfA), the new ngEHT award will fund design and prototyping efforts by researchers at several US institutes. These include Dr. Gopal Narayanan at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Dr. Vincent Fish at the MIT Haystack Observatory, and Drs. Katherine L. (Katie) Bouman and Gregg Hallinan at Caltech. At the CfA, Drs. Michael Johnson, Jonathan Weintroub, and Lindy Blackburn are co-Principal Investigators of the ngEHT program.
On April 10th, 2019, the International Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration released the first image of a supermassive black hole. A bright ring of emission at the heart of the Virgo A galaxy revealed a black hole, known as M87, that has a mass of 6.5 billion Suns. Einstein’s theory of gravity spectacularly passed this new test in this extreme cosmic laboratory. For this work, the EHT Collaboration will receive the Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics this November.
Black holes are now accessible for direct imaging, objects with gravity so sharp that light can not escape. More precise gravity tests can now be considered, and it is possible to study in detail the processes by which supermassive black holes energize the brightness and dynamics of most galaxy cores. The next-generation EHT (ngEHT) will sharpen the focus on black holes and allow researchers to move on to the event horizon from still-imagery to real-time space-time videos.
New telescopes and technology will allow scientists to study the black holes in more frequencies, significantly improve our understanding. Each observatory will have to be equipped with ways to record and transfer an incredible amount of data.
The team observed the supermassive black hole in the Milky Way two years ago, but its mercurial character has made the analysis quite tricky. Doeleman confirms that they are working hard on it, so we might soon see an equally breathtaking image. As he said, the best is truly yet to come.