Before releasing the first-ever image of a black hole, an international team of researchers were already scheduling a movie sequel depicting how huge clouds of gas are permanently absorbed into the void. The required observations have already been recorded by the Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration and scientists are currently processing the data for the release of the first video in 2020.
Shep Doeleman, the project director is hopeful that by the end of the next decade, it would be possible to make real-time movies of black holes that depict their action at a cosmic stage beside their appearance.
The complete group of 347 scientists from around the world won $3 million and were awarded the Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics for the so-called “Oscar of science” image. Doeleman, a 52-year-old cosmologist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics and the father of two joked that his wife might be finally convinced that he was doing something worthwhile as he worked on this for more than 20 years.
Astronomers did not have the sharpness in their images to detect the shape of the light which was being swallowed by the black holes. After the team linked multiple radio telescopes together, creating an Earth-sized massive telescope the barrier was finally overcome and thus objects that appear microscopic in the night sky could now be observed with high resolution.
The team used three telescopes to establish the evidence of concept and the first measurements of the black hole were published in 2008. They had combined eight radio telescopes in Chile, Spain, Mexico, the US, and the South Pole by April 2017. The astronomers were able to observe the boundaries of the black holes by using these massive instruments which observe high-frequency radio waves.
The group also observed the center of our own Milky Way: Sagittarius-A* in addition to its observations of the black hole in the Messier 87 (M87) galaxy. Doeleman explained that while orbits of matter around Sagittarius-A* takes only half an hour and can change during one night of observation, it takes about a month to orbit around M87. He also added that the first cut of the movie could be made by 2020 and researchers would need more telescopes on Earth as well as in orbit, to strengthen the resolution.
Doeleman is optimistic about the possibility of future funding from governments as well as possibly from private donors after the first image of M87 captured people’s imagination. He also said that the EHT has added more value than any other scientific project in history. As explorers, they are reporting what they have observed at the edges of the black hole with their instruments.