Now that the Event Horizon Telescope has finished its 10-day observation period, many are wondering if that period has yielded the first-ever black hole photos, as was suggested in earlier reports. The observation period appears to have been completed successfully despite some challenges with weather, and some are reporting that the team behind the EHT was able to come up with an image of a black hole, just as was hoped for.
According to Complex, the team of astronomers working on the Event Horizon Telescope had spent close to a week observing Sagittarius A*, a supermassive black hole located in the center of the Milky Way, about 26,000 light-years away from Earth and within the Sagittarius constellation. Throughout the course of the observation, inclement weather had threatened to throw a proverbial spanner in the works, but as of Tuesday, April 11, the astronomers were able to gather enough data, which may include something that amounts to the first black hole photo ever taken.
— Gizmodo (@Gizmodo) April 14, 2017
But are these really actual images of black holes? According to Gizmodo, the hype surrounding the Event Horizon Telescope discoveries has driven many to think that the photos accompanying reports on the matter are actual black hole images, straight from the EHT. But, as the publication stressed, these are artist renderings that should not be confused with the real thing, and a lot needs to be done to further analyze the EHT’s photos from Sagittarius A*. Another observation period may also be necessary before one can truly say that the EHT team has snapped a black hole photo.
Speaking to Complex, Event Horizon Telescope team member Heino Falcke of Radboud University explained that the photos are, at this point, still washed out. And it’s not even sure whether a true, confirmed black hole photo can be found among the images – it may take more than a few months before the photos are successfully verified. Still, he sees the photos as important and potentially ground-breaking.
“(With the photos, we) can already test for the first time some basic predictions of Einstein’s theory of gravity in the extreme environment of a black hole. (The photos) will turn black holes from some mythical object to something concrete that we can study.”
— Corey S. Powell (@coreyspowell) April 7, 2017
As Complex noted, it really could take some time for the data to be thoroughly crunched, as the eight observatories included in the EHT project will have 1,024 hard drives of data to work with. Photos stored on those hard drives would then have to be developed separately at a Massachusetts Institute of Technology observatory. With that in mind, there’s also the fact that astronomers will have to wait until October for one of the observatories, which is located in Antarctica, to ship the photos over to MIT for developing.
Due to the above-mentioned logistical variables, there’s a good chance it could take closer to a year for the black hole photos to be confirmed as such. But if the photos do indeed show the first tangible proof that black holes exist, they could solve many other mysteries about our universe, including those related to how it first came to be and how it evolved through billions and billions of years.
“The images will emerge as we combine all the data,” said Event Horizon Telescope project manager Michael Bremer in an interview with Phys.org. “But we’re going to have to wait several months for the result.”
Summing it all up, a lot of us may have expected too much, too soon from the Event Horizon Telescope. But those black hole photos will be analyzed and hopefully confirmed in due time — you’ll just have to be patient.
[Featured Image by REDPIXEL.PL/Shutterstock]