If everything goes to plan, we should be getting our first image of a black hole sometime within a year.
Yesterday, scientists “switched on” a global array of telescopes with the goal of imaging the supermassive black hole 26,000 light-years away at the center of our galaxy, Sagittarius A* (Sgr A*). The project, called the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT), is running from April 5 to April 14, with the first results expected later this year or early in 2018.
“These are the observations that will help us to sort through all the wild theories about black holes. And there are many wild theories,” Gopal Narayanan at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, involved in the project, said in a statement. “With data from this project, we will understand things about black holes that we have never understood before.”
While we’re fairly certain black holes exist, we’ve never actually seen one. But we can infer their existence from their effect on stars and galaxies. At the center of our galaxy, for example, stars seem to be orbiting an unseen object. Elsewhere, we’ve seen intense amounts of X-rays and large jets of material believed to have originated from black holes.
But while they can be millions to billions of times more massive than our Sun, some – like Sgr A* – are only a few times bigger in radius. Sgr A* is about 30 times bigger in size to be exact. This makes them incredibly difficult to see, sort of like trying to image a grapefruit on the Moon according to Narayanan.