Event Horizon Telescope – Capture the Edge of Light

Remember that awesome movie with Laurence Fishburne back in the 90’s called Event Horizon?  The one with the awesome ship and the crazy astrophysical spacetime drive reactor that made everyone basically kill themselves once they had seen what it had to show?

Yeah, there is nothing about that movie that really relates to this post, but damn, that was a great movie…

Now there is a project going on that is trying to capture the event horizon of a black hole — for those non-nerds out there, an event horizon is basically that “point of no return” where something as massive as a black hole has such gravitational pull that not even light can escape its gravitational force.  Watch the movie Interstellar, it does a pretty good job at explaining what this “event” really is and how it relates to spacetime.  Spacetime itself is a mathematical model — take all three of the dimensions that we know, and mix in the dimension of time (which is a single dimension as we know it), and you have spacetime.  Geometry, relative physics, spacetime, event horizons, black holes — all things that are far beyond my paygrade and relativistic understanding, and I think I’m pretty good at math.

What we do know, however, is that we don’t know about what an event horizon looks like, because there is no way to directly observe one — or a black hole.  Light inside of a black hole can’t escape, and light emitted from inside a black hole is thought to experience an elongation of the wavelength itself, causing constant red shift as it gets longer and longer…  remember that red wavelengths are the longest in our spectrum.  The gravity of a black hole literally stretches the wave apart.

This artist’s impression depicts a rapidly spinning supermassive black hole surrounded by an accretion disc. This thin disc of rotating material consists of the leftovers of a Sun-like star which was ripped apart by the tidal forces of the black hole. Shocks in the colliding debris as well as heat generated in accretion led to a burst of light, resembling a supernova explosion.

What’s awesome about all of this is that we really have no idea what the hell it is — it’s all completely mathematical.  We’ve not observed an event horizon, we can’t as of now even do so — but there is a project called the Event Horizon Telescope that is attempting through world scale technology (as in tech all over the globe) to analyze and interpret several data points to increase our understanding of this phenomena of the event horizon.  Way cooler than a movie, but scientifically very difficult.  From the Event Horizon Telescope page:

A long standing goal in astrophysics is to directly observe the immediate environment of a black hole with angular resolution comparable to the event horizon.  Such observations could lead to images of strong gravity effects that are expected near a black hole, and to the direct detection of dynamics near the black hole as matter orbits at near light speeds.  This capability would open a new window on the study of general relativity in the strong field regime, accretion and outflow processes at the edge of a black hole, the existence of event horizons, and fundamental black hole physics.

The EHT is an international collaboration that has formed to continue the steady long-term progress on improving the capability of Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI) at short wavelengths in pursuit of this goal.  This technique of linking radio dishes across the globe to create an Earth-sized interferometer, has been used to measure the size of the emission regions of the two supermassive black holes with the largest apparent event horizons: SgrA* at the center of the Milky Way and M87 in the center of the Virgo A galaxy.  In both cases, the sizes match that of the predicted silhouette caused by the extreme lensing of light by the black hole.  Addition of key millimeter and submillimeter wavelength facilities at high altitude sites has now opened the possibility of imaging such features and sensing the dynamic evolution of black hole accretion.  The EHT project includes theoretical and simulation studies that are framing questions rooted at the black hole boundary that may soon be answered through observations.

By linking together existing telescopes using novel systems, the EHT leverages considerable global investment to create a fundamentally new instrument with angular resolving power that is the highest possible from the surface of the Earth.  Over the coming years, the international EHT team will mount observing campaigns of increasing resolving power and sensitivity, aiming to bring black holes into focus.

You can follow the Event Horizon Telescope on Facebook and Twitter at @ehtelescope.

Think about it — a black hole is so powerful that nothing can escape its gravitational pull, not even photons.

Here’s Matt to talk about just what happens at the event horizon — worth the watch, especially if you’re feeling mathematically nerdy:

Amazing concepts.  I always wonder in our lives what we will get to discover.

Some heavy brain lifting:


Argentinian Dude Photographs Exploding Star

Talk about lucky!  An exploding star.  A guy from Argentina was testing out his 16″ telescope last month, and he just happened to capture images of a supernova exploding in the barred spiral galaxy NGC 613:

From Quartz:

The burst of light from a supernova, called a “shock breakout,” occurs when a supersonic pressure wave from the star’s exploding core hits the gas at the star’s surface. The impact causes the gas to heat to an extremely high temperature and rapidly emit light for a fleeting moment. Until Buso’s photo, no one had captured such an image because stars explode seemingly at random.

“Professional astronomers have long been searching for such an event,” said UC Berkeley astronomer Alex Filippenko, who was among the international research team that conducted follow-up observations.

Buso quickly noticed the unusual burst of light in his photos and contacted an international group of astronomers. Over the next two months, both amateur and professionals jointly collected data on the explosion, called SN 2016gkg, in the spiral galaxy NGC 613. The new data provides rare insight into a star’s catastrophic demise, which was published today (Feb. 22) in Nature.

This is an amazing discovery — cosmic photons captured by accident — let’s hope that the amateur astronomer Victor Buso buys a lottery ticket!

Total nerdout side link:  The Transcient Name Server — information on NGC 613

Check out the shock wave on this thing, it is like a solar horror film:

Look at the smiler on this guy! Ladies and gentlemen, meet amateur supernerd Victor Buso:

hat tips:


Also check out some amazing photographs of galaxy NGC 613:


Paris, at Night, from the International Space Station

So I’m minding my own business looking at news about Bernie endorsing Hillary, and BOOM — a photo comes across my screen of Paris at night, photographed from the International Space Station.  Check this out:


From the ISS page on this photo:

Around local midnight time on April 8, 2015, astronauts aboard the International Space Station took this photograph of Paris, often referred to as the “City of Light.”

The pattern of the street grid dominates at night, providing a completely different set of visual features from those visible during the day. For instance, the winding Seine River is a main visual cue by day, but here the thin black line of the river is hard to detect until you focus on the strong meanders and the street lights on both banks.

The brightest boulevard in the dense network of streets is the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, the historical axis of the city, as designed in the 17th century. Every year on Bastille Day (July 14), the largest military parade in Europe processes down the Champs Élysées, reviewed by the President of the Republic. This grand avenue joins the royal Palace of the Tuileries–whose gardens appear as a dark rectangle on the river–to the star-like meeting place of eleven major boulevards at the Arc de Triomphe.

The many forested parks of Paris stand out as black polygons–such as the Bois de Boulogne and Vincennes. Orly and Charles de Gaulle airports are distinguished by their very bright lights next to the dark areas of runways and surrounding open land. Paris’s great ring road, the Boulevard Périphérique, encloses the city center.

Astronaut photograph ISS043-E-93480 was acquired on April 8, 2015, with a Nikon D4 digital camera using a 400 millimeter lens, and is provided by the ISS Crew Earth Observations Facility and the Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, Johnson Space Center.

If you want to see an enormous 4,000+ pixel photo of this view…  here’s that 4,000+ pixel photo of that ISS view of Paris at night.

Also, from the photo detail page of this shot – NASA:

Near midnight astronauts aboard the International Space Station took this image of Paris. The city is strongly patterned by the street grid because streets are the most consistently lit lines at night, providing a completely different set of features from those seen during the day. A day image shows the winding Seine River is the main visual cue, but here the thin black line of the river is hard to detect, until you focus on the strong meanders that wind across the image from lower left to top right. When you know what to look for you can see street lights on both banks following the course of the river, especially near the city center.

The many forested parks of Paris stand out as black polygons such as the Bois de Boulogne (at image lower center) and Vincennes (at image upper center). Even the lit paths through the Bois de Boulogne can be seen clearly in this image. Airports show a combination of very bright lights and the dark areas of runways and surrounding open country. A small part of the Charles de Gaulle airport appears at image top left, and Orly airport at image top right near the Seine.

Paris’s great ring road, the Boulevard Périphérique, encloses the city center, touching both of the abovementioned parks. The brightest boulevard in the dense network of streets in the center, is the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, the historical axis of the city designed in the 17th century. Every year on Bastille Day (14 July), the largest military parade in Europe processes down the Champs-Élysées, reviewed by the President of the Republic. The Champs Élysées, joins the royal Palace of the Tuileries, whose gardens appear as a dark rectangle on the river, to the star-like meeting place of eleven major arterial boulevards at the Arc de Triomphe at image center. This famous plaza was long named the Étoile (star).

Space is cool.