Event Horizon for the Human Race—Moving Beyond Our Own Boundaries

The Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) on Hawai’i’s Mauna Kea and Atacama’s Large Submillimeter Array (SMA) answered some cosmic prayers this week.

Event Horizon Discovery by Global AstroSci Team

Summit of Mauna Kea at 13,000ft has ideal microclimate for Harvard-Smithsonian Event Horizon 8-telescope array

The Submillimeter Array of eight radio telescopes alongside the James Clerk Maxwell Observatory on the summit of Mauna Kea, Hawai’i have sent earthling skywatchers skyrocketing with delight, as they released their first picture of Messier-87—a super-dense neutron region or ‘black hole’ in Virgo galaxy this week.

Hawai’i is crucial to Event Horizon (EHT)’s world network. Its high volcanic setting provides cloud-free receiving/bending of its own multiple signal—from three points in an array of eight new [radio]telescopes, top, with Mauna Kea Observatory’s James Clerk Maxwell 49-foot dish telescope, and reusing CalTech’s nearby CSO ‘redundant’ observatory.

Previously co-funded by Great Britain, Canada and Netherlands, EHT is presently co-sponsored by Harvard-Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, Cambridge, Massachusetts with the Academia Sinica, and a consortium of astrophysics interests from Taiwan, China, Japan, South Korea and Chile. EHT is in international partnership with the European Southern Observatory (ESO), the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Institutes of Natural Sciences (NINS) of Japan, together with NRC (Canada), NSC and ASIAA (Taiwan), and KASI (Republic of Korea). Vital cooperation is the link with the Republic of Chile—where ALMA‘s 66 high-precision antennae are located on the Chajnantor plateau, at 5000 meters altitude/one mile high in northern Chile.
(ALMA)=Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array

Event Horizon Telescope —EHT— world’s 1st super-array captures its first picture of ultra-dense neutron region M-57 in constellation Virgo

The Event Horizon Telescope—EHT—is a global array of radio telescopes involving dozens of institutions and astrophysicists round the world. Breakthrough discovery by the EHT is an image of Messier 87 (M-87)’s supermassive neutron black hole at the center of the Virgo galaxy cluster, 55 million light years away. This neutron-dense region contains 6.5 billion times the mass of our Sun.

Affectionately named ‘black holes’ are extremely compressed cosmic objects, containing extraordinary amounts of mass packed densely into a tiny region of space. This mass is shrouded by an event horizon—a boundary beyond which nothing—not even light—can escape its electromagnetic/gravitational pull.

They affect their surroundings in extreme ways, including warping spacetime and heating surrounding material to hundreds of billions of degrees. Albert Einstin in his 1915 Theory of General Relativity predicted that a black hole would cast a circular shadow on its bright, glowing material. The newly-released image of M87 from EHT reveals this shadow.

Light emitted from inside the event horizon can never reach the outside observer. Likewise, any object approaching the horizon from the observer’s side appears to slow down and never quite pass through the horizon—its image becoming more and more redshifted as time elapses. This means that the wavelength of the light emitted from the object is getting longer as the object moves away from the observer. The traveling object, however, experiences no strange effects and does, in fact, pass through the horizon in a finite amount of ‘proper’ time.

As high as the Swiss Alps, Mauna Kea hosts climate-immune radiotelescope array for worldwide science cooperative

Black hole event horizons are widely misunderstood. Common, although erroneous, is the notion that black holes vacuum up material in their neighborhood, where in fact they are no more capable of seeking to consume than any other gravitational attractor. As with any mass in the universe, matter must come within its gravitational scope for the possibility to exist of capture or consolidation with any other mass. Equally common is the idea that matter can be observed falling into a black hole. This is not possible either.

Astronomers can detect only accretion disks around black holes, where material moves with such speed that friction creates detectable high-energy radiation. Matter from these accretion disks is forced out along the axis of spin of the black hole, creating visible jets where the streams interact with matter—such as interstellar gas—or if they happen to be aimed directly at Earth.
J.A.Peacock Cosmological Physics, 1999

A distant observer—or world-class telescope array—will never actually see something reach the horizon. Instead, while approaching its edge, the object will seem to go ever more slowly, while any light it emits will be further and further redshifted.

Earth-size Telescope Dish
In order to see a black hole for the first time, the Event Horizon Telescope team hooked up an array of radio telescopes in Hawai’i, Central and South America (Atacama), Europe, Greenland and Antarctica, with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) dish in Cambridge, MA.

EHT signals from global telescope network create earth-size dish receiver, beamed Mauna Kea HI to Cambridge MA for image resolution by the EHT team

Using a technique known as very long baseline (vLBI) interferometry, the CfA-MIT team took precisely-timed data from each radio telescope, combining them to produce images comparable with what an Earth-hemisphere-sized dish would capture. The resulting virtual telescope has the highest resolution of any instrument ever built on earth, in orbit within the Solar System—or even beyond the Heliopause where Voyagers I & II entered Interstellar Space.

We’re a melting pot of astronomers, physicists, mathematicians and engineers. That’s what it took to achieve something once thought impossible.
Katie Bouman, PhD CfA elec.engineer/computer sci
Co-author six papers in Astrophysical Journal Letters

EHT’s image reveals that this enormous black hole—large enough to engulf the solar system—anchors a jet that extends outwards for tens of thousands of light years.

Hawai’i’s Mauna a Wakea—white mountain—multiple telescope array at 13,803feet on the dormant volcano played crucial role in Event Horizon success

There are already plans to expand the EHT: to enable the team to make time-lapse movies of the dynamics of this (newly-discovered) living system, and to discover how the jet draws its energy from this negative source.

Creating the EHT was a formidable challenge which required upgrading and connecting a worldwide network of thirteen pre-existing telescopes deployed at a variety of challenging high-altitude sites. These locations included volcanoes in Hawai`i and Mexico, mountains in Arizona and the Spanish Sierra Nevada, the Chilean Atacama Desert, and Antarctica.

All Very Baseline Interferometry
Event Horizon observations use a technique called very-long-baseline interferometry (VLBI) which synchronizes 13 telescopes around the world, using earth’s rotation to form one huge, Earth-size telescope observing at a wavelength of 1.3 mm. This lets EHT achieve an angular resolution of 20 micro-arc-seconds—enough to read a newspaper in New York from a sidewalk café in Paris.

From Chile’s Atacama high desert to Spain’s Sierra Nevada to Mauna Kea’s multiple array, telescopes worldwide combined to bring new images beyond human expectation and belief

Resolution of the EHT image depends on separation distance between the telescopes—the baseline—and the short-millimeter radio wavelengths captured around the world. EHT’s finest resolution is achieved by the longest baseline, which for M87 stretches from Hawai’i to Spain and Greenland to Antarctica. To optimize long baseline sensitivity—or make detection possible—the team developed a specialized system which combines all signals from Mauna Kea’s SMA dishes, letting Hawai’i act as a single EHT station.

Beaming-coordinating signals from night-time (western) half of the globe employs optimum use of precious telescope time when the other—Asian—hemisphere is in daylight.

After separately recording signals at all thirteen telescopes, data are flown to a single location and combined by computer to create an image by a virtual Earth-size telescope—first of its kind.

Petabytes, Raw Data and Red Shift
Lindy Blackburn, EHT data processing team leader and coauthor explains that EHT holds millions of gigabytes of data from many telescopes that weren’t originally designed to work together. ‘We developed multiple pathways to process and calibrate data, using new algorithms to stabilize the Earth’s atmosphere and to align the signals from all sites within trillionths of a second precisely.’

Rapidly spinning supermassive hole surrounded by its accretion disc of rotating leftovers from Sun-like star ripped apart by the hole’s tidal force, courtesy ALMA Large Array, Atacama

Telescopes contributing to this result were ALMA*, APEX, the Spanish IRAM 30-meter telescope, the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope, the Large Millimeter Telescope Alfonso Serrano, the Submillimeter Array, the Greenland Submillimeter Telescope, and the South Pole Telescope. Petabytes of raw data from all telescopes were combined by highly specialized supercomputers hosted by the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Munich, and MIT Haystack Observatory, Cambridge, MA.
*Atacama Large Millimeter-Submillimeter Array in Andes high desert, Chile

Global teamwork meant a close collaboration by astrophysicists, technicians and researchers around the world—and a first for science.

Construction of the EHT and this week’s observations represent the culmination of decades of close technical theoretical work. Thirteen partner institutions worked together to create the EHT, using both pre-existing infrastructure and support from a variety of world agencies. Key funding was provided by the US National Science Foundation (NSF), EU’s European Research Council (ERC), and funding agencies in East Asia, above.

On a planetary level, we sci-fi addicts thank the team for rising above national barriers and creating something previously only dreamed of.

On a Cosmic level—look out—unlimited data incoming.
©2019 Siderealview

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