The Milky Way’s black hole may finally get its close-up.
Beginning on April 5, scientists with the Event Horizon Telescope will attempt to zoom in on a never-before-imaged realm: a black hole’s event horizon. That’s the boundary at which gravity’s pull becomes so strong that nothing can escape.
In the telescope’s cross hairs are two supermassive black holes, one at the center of the Milky Way, the other in the nearby galaxy M87. Scientists hope to capture the light emitted by a halo of gas that swirls just outside the event horizon as the black hole swallows it up.
The Event Horizon Telescope is not one telescope, but eight radio observatories linked together into a massive network that spans the globe. The new observations will be the first that include the ultrasensitive Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array in Chile’s Atacama Desert, increasing the possibility that the image will reveal new details. Astronomers will take data for five nights within a 10-day period.
This is no Polaroid picture, though — it will be months before the data have been crunched and the portrait is ready for prime time.