The simple truth is that black holes are really far away from the Earth and no matter how much we try we can only assume what they look like, because they’re almost entirely invisible to us. Just by using Google to search for images of black holes you get a handful of some beautiful pictures, I for one was awestruck when I first searched the word and yet all of it is just a figment of our imagination, about which we know little to nothing. Until now that is.
Since the talent pool of scientists is really strong we have so many physicists and astronomers working hard to find some way to get an actual image of a black hole. These people won’t give up looking for answers just because they’re lacking a few photons. So finally, a team of physicists from MIT and Harvard has developed an algorithm that will potentially be able to help us produce the first ever image of a black hole.
"A black hole is very, very far away and very compact," lead researcher and graduate student at MIT, Katie Bouman, explains. "[Taking a picture of the black hole in the centre of the Milky Way galaxy is] equivalent to taking an image of a grapefruit on the Moon, but with a radio telescope."
"To image something this small means that we would need a telescope with a 10,000-kilometre diameter, which is not practical, because the diameter of Earth is not even 13,000 kilometres."
We do realize that we need a telescope bigger than the size of the Earth in order to check out these things the same way as we check on other stars and planets so there was an absolute need for another plan.
Plan B is an algorithm which is just mentioned above, that combines together the collected data from sources like radio telescopes which are positions across the globe at various location which makes up the cohesive image of the black hole. This whole combining factor project is said to be known as the Event Horizon Telescope.
The main question that hinders us to develop a more profound image of the actual black holes is that why use radio telescopes? But the answer lies right in there, we are aware that black holes don’t emit visible light like stars or asteroids and that is why we use radio wave signals to have an idea of what exactly black holes look like. Also, these signals have an absolute advantage of not getting jumbled up in space dust not just like any other signal.
"Radio wavelengths come with a lot of advantages," says Bouman. "Just like how radio frequencies will go through walls, they pierce through galactic dust. We would never be able to see into the centre of our galaxy in visible wavelengths because there’s too much stuff in between."
However the major drawback of using radio telescope is that they have extensively lengthy wavelengths and hence require antenna dishes complementing their size, as Larry Hardesty explains for MIT News:
"The largest single radio-telescope dish in the world has a diameter of 1,000 feet [304 metres], but an image it produced of the Moon, for example, would be blurrier than the image seen through an ordinary backyard optical telescope."
Rather than trying to make a large radio telescope, which will be impossible because it will be larger than the Earth, just to see a black hole, the physicists have planned to turn the Earth into a giant telescope dish. They will be linking as many radio telescopes as possible and then they will fill in the gaps by using their math skills.
Bouman and the team have managed to get at least six observatories as of now from across the globe to sign on to the Event Horizon Telescope project and the team is also looking for more confirmations in the next few coming weeks. The team will be using the data collected in order to start forming the first image of the black hole.
Continuous High-resolution Image Reconstruction using Patch priors (CHIRP), the new algorithm devised by Bouman and team will be used to apply on the data used which will help making an informed ‘guess’ in places where telescopes are currently unreachable.
"To detect black holes today, computer-powered observatories scan for and record bright points of light that are emitted as a black hole, say, eats a star's plasma," Sarah Kramer explains for Tech Insider.
"The new model will take such data about known black holes to identify common patterns among the enigmatic objects. Then the software will ‘learn' those patterns and use them to predict what appears in areas we can't see using radio telescopes."
On June 27th, at the conference on computer vision and pattern recognition in Las Vegas, Bouman and the team is going to present their plan for the very first time. So we might expect to see the first ever image of a black hole very soon next year.