MIT computers are churning away on data that, later this year, could reveal the first portrait of a black hole. That adventure—and one of the MIT physicists behind it—are the subjects of an article in a recent issue of the New York Times.
Sheperd Doeleman is assistant director of MIT’s Haystack Observatory. He and more than 100 colleagues from 20 institutions around the world have been working to develop a network of telescopes capable of taking the first clear images of a black hole.
Scientists can currently determine the location of black holes—objects so dense that their gravitational pull prevents anything including light itself from ever escaping their grasp—but they haven’t been able to observe details. Telescopes to date have only been capable of capturing images that are akin to “looking through frosted glass,” Doeleman told the Times‘ Dennis Overbye.
For two weeks earlier this year, however, Doeleman and colleagues successfully trained a network of seven radio telescopes on two black holes. After one observing run, the excited astronomers took a selfie in front of one of the telescopes, celebrating “the sweat, the lack of sleep, the exhaustion, and the pure joy of an experiment. It’s the moments you live for,” Laura Vertatschitsch, one of Doeleman’s postdoctoral researchers, told Overbye.
Computers at MIT are currently processing the resulting 200 terabytes of data, or “about as much as is contained in the printed material in the Library of Congress,” Overbye writes. Early results are encouraging; they showed strong signs of a pattern indicating that the experiment worked.
Read more at the New York Times.