South Pole Science: The Event Horizon Telescope

The South Pole Telescope: docked and being taken over by the Event Horizon team.

The South Pole Telescope: docked and being taken over by the Event Horizon team.

Event horizon: where the speed needed to “break free” from the black hole’s gravitational attraction is greater than the speed of light.

“I still don’t get it.” Me either. But I’ll try to explain to you what was explained to me!

To see the supermassive black hole, Sagittarius A*, at the center of our galaxy we need a telescope the size of Earth, which as we all know is impossible. But what about the combined power of many smaller telescopes across the globe? This is exactly the mission of the Event Horizon Telescope, a project combining data from a few different telescope arrays around the planet in order to observe the “eating habits” of Sagittarius A*. EHT hopes to learn more about black hole physics and they are even challenging Einstein’s theory of general relativity.

Bright things that a telescope sees. (I know, great description.) Photo from a Penn State website: https://www.e-education.psu.edu/astro801/content/l8_p7.html

There are many technical challenges when it comes to creating a telescope array spanning half of the earth. The Event Horizon project has made use of the 10-meter South Pole Telescope, which allows for a much higher resolution. The other array partners include the Arizona Radio Observatry and Submillimeter-wave Astronomy (Arizona, USA), Atacama Submillimeter Telescope Experiment (Northern Chile), Combined Array for Research in Millimeter-wave Astronomy (California, USA), Caltech Submillimeter Observatory, the Submillimeter Array and the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope (Mauna Kea summit, Hawaii, USA), and the Institut de Radioastronomie Millimetrique (30-m telescope in Spain). Each site will gather data synchronized with a highly accurate atomic clock, and all of the information will be compared between telescopes. 1 Petabyte of data is gathered per station, per day. And I thought a 2TB hard drive was huge!

Area covered by the Event Horizon array. The South Pole clearly has a very important role in deepening the resolution. (Image from the University of Arizona)

That’s the extent of my understanding of this project… but if you would like to know more, here’s a few websites to check out:

Sorry cosmologist friends if I’ve totally butchered this…

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