Photos of supermassive black holes are so 2019, it’s time to see a video of it. Luckily, astronomers around the world have just started the observations that will allow the Event Horizon Telescope to actually “pivot to video”.
After all, how can one top such a historical image as the first-ever direct photo of a supermassive black hole, M87, if not by actually collecting footage of the everchanging shadow of these elusive objects? And it’s not just to push the envelope of how interesting humanity can make these observations. Seeing the changes around a black hole will help us test established theories and maybe gain insights into what lies beyond our current understanding of physics.
The endeavor is far from easy, though. To be able to observe in detail something 60 million light-years away you need a truly epic telescope. You need a radio telescope the size of the whole planet. Building such a dish is beyond our technology but physics helps us out. Thanks to a phenomenon called interferometry, it is possible to combine the data from two radio telescopes at a certain distance as if they were a single dish the size of their distance.
In the current iteration of the Event Horizon Telescope, there are 11 stations around the world from Greenland and the South Pole to South America and Europe. Working in unison they will collect new observations of M87, the black hole at the center of the galaxy Messier 87, as well as new observations of Sagittarius A*, the supermassive black hole at the center of our own galaxy, the Milky Way. The plan is to also observe a few other supermassive black holes, some active and some not, with the furthest being 7 billion light-years away.
When the Event Horizon Telescope scientists revealed the first image of the event horizon of a black hole, they promised one day we would have razor-sharp video footage of a black hole, and now those first few steps towards it have been taken.