A black hole seems like something right out of Star Trek, but they do exist and astronomers are getting a look at one using some interesting new technology – the continent-spanning telescope. Researchers in this project are linking together radio dish scopes in Hawaii, Arizona and California to create one large virtual device with enough power to take a closer look at a black hole sitting millions of light years away.
Star Trek was not far off in their view of the black hole anomaly. Episodes depicting a ship caught in the gravitation force of the hole and sucked into the center are showing something that could actually happen. That is one of the focuses of this study.
Items that enter an area around the hole known as Event Horizon cannot get back once they pass a point of no return. Event Horizon is the boundary around the hole where matter and light only move towards the center. If you visualize water funneling down into a drain, you get a picture of the effect Event Horizon has on anything caught around the black hole. Once something like the Starship Enterprise passes that edge of the universe, staying out of the hole becomes problematic.
For the record, NASA defines a black hole as an area in space with gravity so dense that even light can’t permeate it. The strong gravitational field squeezes matter into the tiny piece of space creating what appears to be a black tear. The coloring comes from the inability of light to move past the dense matter and gravitational force. This unique phenomena form when a star dies, and for the first time, researchers are getting real views and data feedback utilizing this specially designed array of scopes. Astronomers are now using the continent-spanning telescope to measure the distance from the edge of the hole to that point were returning from the void becomes impossible.
Geologist John Michell first conceived the theory of a space body with gravity so massive that light does not pass through it in 1783. Just a few years later, mathematician Pierre Simon LaPlace proposed the same idea. It wasn’t until Einstein that science began to make a connection between gravity and black holes.
The virtual telescope shows a black hole sitting in the center of a large galaxy 50 million light years away from Earth. To put the size of the event in perspective, the black hole found in the Messier 87 galaxy is six billion times more massive than the sun. The sun, on the other hand, is 109 times larger than Earth.
It is the size and location of this particular black hole that has gotten the attention of scientists. The study cofounder Jonathan Weintroub, calls it an ideal target for research. The astronomers conducting the study apply Einstein’s theory of general relativity to the data to figure how close objects can get to the void and still come back.
This peek the world is getting now at this mysterious piece of space is just the beginning with this telescope design. The scientific team working on the project has plans to expand the view by adding more telescopes to the network. The goal is to combine radio dishes from Chile, Europe, Greenland, Mexico and the South Pole to increase the quality of the images. Soon the public will get an even better glimpse into the last frontier and one massive black hole sitting inside it.
Modern science is answering questions about black holes in space utilizing a new technology – the continent-spanning telescope.