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Why The First Ever Black Hole Image Is So Impressive

Remember that image of a real black hole?

black hole and guy

While I’m preparing the enter the #GrandmaProject (and preparing for the release of Maestra Rising), I thought it would be fun, or at least interesting, to take a look behind the picture of the first ever black hole.

Remember that image of a black hole, the orange ring around a dark circle, you saw back on April 10, 2019? That was the first actual picture of a black hole’s event horizon, a great phenomenon to look at in pictures. But you wouldn’t want to actually go to see it. The giant void is about 23.6 billion miles wide, not counting giant rings of trapped light orbiting it. So, if you consider that it’s just 7,917 miles through the center of Earth from one side to the other, that black hole could easily swallow up our whole planet. Don’t worry though, at 55 million light-years away we’re at a safe distance from getting sucked into it.

The black hole in the image was named Pōwehi by Larry Kimura, a Hawaiian language professor at the University of Hawaii at Hilo. He referenced an 18th-century Hawaiian chant called the Kumulipo, and two words in it — “po” and “wehi”.  Pōwehi means “embellished dark source of unending creation.” Also, two of the eight powerful telescopes that supplied data for the image are located in Hawaii.

The image of Pōwehi shows that gravity can and does warp the fabric of space-time which is Einstein’s theory of general relativity in action. And when a humongous star collapses on itself and transforms into a dense object with a fierce gravitational pull, that’s some heavy warping power.  With that in mind, astrophysicists surmised it would bend the light around it near the event horizon. They also imagined what that would look like, and the size and shape of the shadow in the image of the supermassive black hole at the center of the Messier 57 galaxy show. They were amazingly accurate in their prediction.

This image also sparks a new phase of astrophysics. Now scientists can use direct signals from black holes instead of relying on secondhand observations.

A lot of collaborative engineering and jumping over technical hurdles took place to capture the image of t Pōwehi.. EHT (Event Horizon Telescope) is a global network of radio telescopes linked to create a Very Long Baseline Interferometer (VLBI) as big as planet Earth. By combining their signals, they boosted their power.

EHT’s observatories, in Chile, Hawaii, Arizona, Mexico, Spain, and even the South Pole synchronized to gather raw incoming radio signals from its antennae. They were recorded as tons of data and stored on physical hard disks then all these disks were shipped by air to central data centers. Then supercomputers used the atomic clock information to line up all the data from the telescopes until we had a seamless record of the wave-front of light from the black hole as it reached Earth.

Scientist are using algorithms to clean up the image of Pōwehi that was created by data gathered in 2017.  With more telescopes joining EHT since that picture was taken, future images will be crisper and clearer. Also, when EHT includes orbital telescopes, blackhole images will have an even higher resolution.

Think about that the next time you take a photo with your cellphone! Because, wow. That’s some serious picture taking. I wonder if we combined all our cellphones…

Sorry for that digression. Lol What pictures will you be taking this weekend? Will you also be curling up with a book or eReader? Do tell!

Perilously yours,

Pauline

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