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:



This is astronaut Don Pettit.  Don’s got a whole bunch of cameras on board the International Space Station, or at least he did on missions Expeditions 30 and Expedition 31 to the ISS.

Don took a whole bunch of awesome photos that were turned into one cool time lapse video, but given a crazy Tron-like twist.  Watch this, it’s well worth a few minutes:

ISS Startrails – TRONized from Christoph Malin on Vimeo.

Now this guy, this is Christoph Malin, he is responsible for the video above.  He’s also awesome.

From the video:

Do you remember 1982’s “TRON” movie? The plot: A computer programmer (epic: Jeff Bridges) is digitized inside the software world of a mainframe computer, where he interacts with various programs in his attempt to get back out. I loved the light cycle races and strange solar wind ships…

Back in the real word the ISS is in a way one of these solar ships, constantly rotating around us. A tiny white spot, as it can be seen racing over the sky from time to time, when illuminated by the sunset (and sunrise ;).

This Video was achived by “stacking” image sequences provided by NASA from the Crew at International Space Station (see These “stacks” create the Star Trails, but furthermore make interesting patterns visible. For example lightning corridors within clouds, but they also show occasional satellite tracks (or Iridium Flashes) as well as meteors – patterns that interrupt the main Star Trails, and thus are immediately visible.

The many oversaturated hot pixels in some of the scenes are the inevitable result of ultrahigh ISO settings the Nikon D3s in ISS-use are pushed to for keeping exposure times short by all means (owed to the dramatic speed the ISS travels). As there are no dark frames or RAW data currently available, hot pixels are not easy to remove.

After the initial stacking, all images have been sequenced with Apple Motion and the Video cut and edited with Final Cut Pro X. Stacking done with StarStaX, get it here:

This Video would also not have been possible without that great minimal soundtrack “Eileen” by Lee Rosevere ( that totally nailed the mood, as well as a short clip of “Window #3” by Two Bicycles ( VIMEO MUSIC STORE ROCKS!

All sequences and images courtesy “The Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth”, Image Science & Analysis Laboratory, NASA Johnson Space Center,
Closing sequence © Christoph Malin / / filmed at Cerro Paranal.

Thanks a lot to my favourite bad Astronomer, Phil Plait at BadAstronomy for first posting the film ( and many many thanks to Vimeo for the Staff Pick!

A truckload of thanks go out to NASA astronaut Don Pettit ( and his colleagues for taking these images, and making films like this one reality!

Finally, please also be aware of the growing issue of light pollution ( one can see in many of these scenes! Support IDA ( on their challenge to preserve the night sky for us and our children, on reducing energy waste! And don’t forget, it is your tax money that lights up the sky!

Oh, and visit my friends at the UNESCO Project TWAN ( for some of the coolest nightsky images and videos on our planet! One people, one sky!

Always believe in your dreams and make it possible!

All the best,
Christoph Malin

PS: At about 1:42 you see Comet “Lovejoy” rising…

PS2: Be sure to check out my other Movies:

“Astronomer’s Paradise”, – featured on National Geographic
“The Island – Teaser”, – featured on NG
“Urban Mountain Sky”, – featured on Discovery Channel
“Black Hole Sun”,, featured on NG!/christophmalin

Indeed. I love the world, humans are awesome.

Thanks to PetaPixel for the Don Pettit photo!

The ISS Presents The Light Friday Fantastic

My friend Jules posted this I think yesterday — a bunch of images from Don Pettit, flight engineer aboard the International Space Station.  Not regular ol’ images of life in space or anything, nay.  These are long exposure shots of stars, et al, taken from the station itself.  This is about the coolest thing I’ve seen this month, and I’ve seen some cool sh*t this month.

Here are some of my faves, but you have to check out the entire Flickr stack – ISS Star Trails on Flickr.







Where in the World is Lumen Sandiego?

STORY TIME! Try to guess where in the world Lumen Sandiego is, and learn about some RE-DONK-U-LOUS-LY cool lighting art at the same time!

Some years ago, I travelled to an “Art Island,” which hosts work by some very spectacular artists, including Claude Monet, Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, Tadao Ando, Yves Klein, Hiroshi Sugimoto, and most importantly for this post, James Turrell between its public art, museums, and hotel.

One museum is located underground, lit via sky lights and windows. I had just taken my first ever lighting design class, and was seeing lighting design everywhere in so much depth it was a little ridiculous (see definition for: obsession). There I saw my first piece by James Turrell, his “Afrum, Pale Blue” (1968). Seeing a piece of art made entirely of light and location impacted me, its simplicity as its strength.

The next piece of his I saw was “Open Field” (2000). There was a guide, who motioned for us to remove our shoes, and I filed in to a line with some other patrons. I felt ritual saturating the room, as we were asked to mount the stairs. We reached the top step, and stood facing the wall, and the flat expanse of uniform blue light directly in front of us. It was the flawless, the smoothest, most perfect panel of light I had seen.

Then my mind was blown.

The guide directed asked us to enter. I suppose he must have motioned, because I don’t believe I spoke the language quite good enough to have understood. I was baffled. I knew I was staring at what I could only assume is the most flawlessly backlit piece of frosted plexi ever. There was nothing to enter. If I stepped forward, I would hit the wall and have humiliated myself, and the polite people in line with me. However, we trusted the guide, and stepped in to the wall.


It was not a wall, but a vast blue void.

Inside, to the camera, it looks like this:

But to human eyes, it looks like this:

I was in an entirely different plane, I was in flatland, I was up against a wall, I was in infinity…

Long story short, James Turrell’s work is CA-RAY-ZAY! We wandered the blue space, exploring its limits, exploring ours, before we finally walked down the steps and put our shoes back on.




This was my introduction to the Light and Space movement. This art movement originated in the 1960s in Southern California. It used light as an integral medium, and focused on creating “perceptual phenomena.”

Why does this matter to us as lighting designers, technicians, or light lovers? Well, let’s just ask trusty ol’ Wikipedia what the Light and Space movement involved, shall we?

Whether by directing the flow of natural light, embedding artificial light within objects or architecture, or by playing with light through the use of transparent, translucent or reflective materials, Light and Space artists made the spectator’s experience of light and other sensory phenomena under specific conditions the focus of their work.

BOOM. In that one sentence, light was referenced 5 times. That’s more than your average show review. So clearly, these artists have found a way to make one hell of an impact via light. I will speak more about Light and Space movement in the next “Where in the World is Lumen Sandiego?” and give more examples of how they expertly manipulate light, but let’s keep this first installation short… QUIZ TIME!


Where do you think I was? I kept it very easy as this is the first installation of “Where in the World is Lumen Sandiego,” so enjoy the feat of victory while you still can! Post a comment, or I’ll reveal next time. Have a tip for a spectacular location of light “Lumen Sandiego” should visit? Submit your tip to daphne (at) or via the contact form.


Photographs from Mitsumasa Fujisuka


Blue Marbles! The Earth At 28,000 Miles

So back on the 7th of December 1972 , Appollo 17 was about 28,000 miles away from the surface of the Earth, and they decided HEY!  Let’s tweet this cool photo of the Earth that nobody but us can see!

(Of course I kid, everybody knows that MySpace was the *only* Social Media place back then)

Do you think they high-fived after seeing that?  I have to believe I would want to high-five something, a colleague, the bulkhead, the instrument panel, anything.  I’d be too excited.

Now a new Blue Marble was released just a few weeks ago – but it’s a composite image of six orbits of the Earth, not the one shot Instagram masterpiece that the Apollo 17 ninjas got back in 1972.  Check it out:

Check THIS out – this is the Hasselblad camera, a model just like the one the astronauts on Apollo 17 used to snap the first Blue Marble:

I put this together for your enjoyment and study – here are the 1972 and Eastern Hemisphere Blue Marbles (2012) side-by-side.  If you click the image, it opens up to a manageable size (1800 pixels wide) for viewing.  Check it out!

Now just remember, these are all courtesy of NASA and NOAA, so make sure you attribute if you share!  Plus, it’s just awesome to point someone to the NASA and NOAA websites; to be nerd is to be awesome.

That’s right, you heard it here first.  Well, the nerd thing anyway.

Laser Powered Broadband? In Space? Wait. What?

Ok, there is something very interesting taking place with NASA this month.  On September 23, NASA decided to approve three projects that are being called “Technology Demonstration Projects.”  A space-based optical communication system (which is what I find the most exhilarating), a deep space atomic clock, and a big ol’ space sail.  From the NASA Office of the Chief Technologist‘s office:

NASA has selected three proposals as Technology Demonstration Missions that will transform its space communications, deep space navigation and in-space propulsion capabilities. The three Space Technology projects will develop and fly a space solar sail, a deep space atomic clock, and a space-based optical communications system. These crosscutting flight demonstrations were selected because of their potential to provide tangible, near-term products and infuse high-impact capabilities into NASA’s future space exploration and science missions. By investing in high payoff, disruptive technologies that industry does not have in-hand today, NASA matures the technologies required for its future missions while proving the capabilities and lowering the cost for other government agency and commercial space activities. 

Ok.  Personal commentary?  What a weird three projects to say “Hey, don’t take our money away, you crazy Congress people and President Obama, we’re NASA.”  I can see the space based laser communication system, that’s pretty cool.  Now granted no one asked me (and I know better that’s probably the main cause we don’t have a space-based laser that can scratch your back), but I’m sure there is reasoning behind these other two projects.  Right?


Check this out – again,. from the press release at NASA – it’s about this big space laser data communication thingie, called the  Laser Communications Relay Demonstration Mission:

Led by the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD, the Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD) will demonstrate and validate a reliable, capable, and cost effective optical communications technology for infusion into operational near earth and deep space systems. The Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) office in the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate is collaborating with the NASA Office of the Chief Technologist in sponsoring this technology demonstration. 

Optical communications (also known as laser communication – lasercom) is a transformative technology that will enable NASA, other government agencies and the commercial space industry to undertake future, complex space missions requiring increased data rates, or decreased mass, size, and power burdens for communications. For approximately the same mass, power, and volume, an optical communications system provides significantly higher data rates than a comparable radio frequency (RF) system. 

High-rate communications will revolutionize space science and exploration. Data rates 10-100 times more capable than current RF systems will allow greatly improved connectivity and enable a new generation of remote scientific investigations as well as provide the satellite communication’s industry with disruptive technology not available today. Space laser communications will enable missions to use bandwidth-hungry instruments, such as hyperspectral imagers, synthetic aperture radar (SAR), and other instruments with high definition in spectral, spatial, or temporal modes. Laser communication will also make it possible to establish a “virtual presence” at a remote planet or other solar system body, enabling the high-rate communications required by future explorers. 

As an example, at the current limit of 6 Mbps for the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), it takes approximately 90 minutes to transmit a single HiRISE high resolution image back to earth. In some instances, this bottleneck can limit science return. An equivalent MRO mission outfitted with an optical communications transmitter would have a capacity to transmit data back to earth at 100 Mbps or more, reducing the single image transmission time to on order of 5 minutes. 

The LCRD mission will:

  • Enable reliable, capable, and cost effective optical communications technologies for near earth applications and provide the next steps required toward optical communications for deep space missions
  • Demonstrate high data rate optical communications technology necessary for:
    • Near-Earth spacecraft (bi-directional links supporting hundreds of Mbps to Gbps)
    • Deep Space missions (tens to hundreds of Mbps from distances such as Mars and Jupiter)
  • Develop, validate and characterize operational models for practical optical communications
  • Identify and develop requirements and standards for future operational optical communication systems
  • Establish a strong partnership with multiple government agencies to facilitate crosscutting infusion of optical communications technologies
  • Develop the industrial base and transfer technology for future space optical communications systems

Ok, now that does sound pretty cool.

How do you feel about these projects?  Worth the money?  NOT worth the money?  Leave a comment below!

A Quasar with 140 Trillion Times the Water in All of Earth’s Oceans.

So, something exciting happened in the world of Astronomy and Astrophysics this last week – two groups of scientists and astronomers at CalTech discovered a mass supply of water in the form of water vapor, living at the center of a quasar called APM 08279+5255, about 12 billion light years away.  That is a lot of water.  That is also a lot of water that just happens to be hanging out in the literal middle of nowhere.

For a little perspective, that water supply is 100,000 times larger than our Sun, and it’s 7.2X10+22 miles away.  There’s about six trillion miles in a light year, and this quasar is about 12 billion light years away.  That’s 72,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 miles away from Earth.  So, this being the case, if we start hitchhiking now, we should make it there by – actually we’ll never make it there.  Not in our lifetimes!  At least not until we invent the Event Horizon, but from what I understand they had a bit of trouble with that ship being all possessed and everything.

Now, something to consider is that these things are way, way old when we actually see the light from them.  That light is at least 12 billion light years old, which means it took 12 billion light years to get to us.  We can measure these things with different kinds of measuring devices that look for the electromagnetic waves that move at faster speeds, like infrared and microwave, that occur “before” the visible light spectrum.  Radio waves and microwaves are very long and infrequent, compared to ultraviolet waves, which are very frequent and short.  Like this:

Okay – first and foremost, what is a quasar, exactly?  Well, honestly we don’t really know all there is to know about them, they’re so far away and of such mass that obviously all we can do is speculate and theorize.  We can observe them with radio telescopes and devices that observe the range of electromagnetic energy between infrared and microwaves (see the Z-Spec gear at the Caltech Submillimeter Observatory in Hawaii and the Combined Array for Research in Millimeter-Wave Astronomy (CARMA)) as well as with very large telescopes like Hubble.  Generally, what is thought to be happening in a quasar is that a large black hole is consuming a whole lot of material in space – between 10 and 1000 sun masses per year, apparently.  That is a whole lot of material that these overweight pigs of black holes turn directly from mass to energy.  So, considering we’re completely skipping a matter form, something has to happen to the material when it’s converted to energy, and that is generally what is referred to as the quasar, or quasi-stellar radio source to the real scientists.  Check out this beautiful artist depiction of a quasar doing its thing (and the image at the top of the post is also an artist’s depiction):

Beautiful.  As the black hole eats all of the mass, electromagnetic energy (which includes visible light) emanates from the quasar.  So, quasars are powered by black holes.  Make sense?  Kinda?  In short, a quasar is a large luminous stellar body.  It’s a monster thing that happens in space, and some of the brightest ones give off more energy than a few trillion of our sun.

Here’s another video, this one explains a bit about Einstein’s Cross and some of the way that the light form quasars is altered by gravitational forces:

Quasars.  Very cool.  Now how do we equate the awesomeness of all that water vapor and the incredulous distance between us and it?

Thanks Count Infinity, Virginia Astrophysics, CalTech AstrophysicsVirginia Tech AstrophysicsUPenn, WiseGeek, and NASA!

A New Planet? An EXTRASOLAR Planet?

Crazy!  Observers and astronomers have discovered a planet orbiting around a faraway star recently with a mass eight times that of Jupiter.

Really?  COOL!  Is this where the Coneheads live???

Obviously, the little circled one in the mid-upper-left of the picture is the planet that is possibly a planet.  Orbiting around that big bright star in the middle, Star System 1RXS J160929.1-210524 (or 1RXS 1609 for short), the little planet there is actualy a monster planet, according to astronomers and other space-types.

Space types?  Good lord, I need to get a better thesaurus.

From an article at – the discovery and study of this monster planet:

Lafreniere and his research team firstannounced their planet’s discovery in September 2008. At the time he was at the University of Toronto, but is now at the University of Montreal and Center for Research in Astrophysics of Quebec.

In 2008, the researchers claimed that the discovery also represented thefirst picture of a planet that orbits around a star similar to our sun. Other astronomers have also made similar claims, including a 2004 discovery of an object that could be a planet or a type of failed star called a brown dwarf.

“Back in 2008 what we knew for sure was that there was this young planetary mass object sitting right next to a young sun-like star on the sky,” Lafreniere said.

The close proximity of the two cosmic objects seemed to suggest that they were associated with each other, but there was a possibility – albeit unlikely – that they were unrelated and had only aligned in the sky by chance. One of the objects might have been closer or farther by considerable distance. So more observations were required to confirm the cosmic find.

The results of the study will be published in an upcoming issue of The Astrophysical Journal.

The system, known as 1RXS J160929.1-210524 (or 1RXS 1609 for short), will give scientists a unique example to study, as its extreme separation from the star seems to challenge common planetary formation theories.

“The unlikely locale of this alien world could be telling us that nature has more than one way of making planets,” said the study’s co-author Ray Jayawardhana of the University of Toronto. “Or, it could be hinting at a violent youth when close encounters between newborn planets hurl some siblings out to the hinterlands.”

The team of astronomers initially detected the exoplanet using the Gemini Observatory in April 2008, which made it the first likely planet known to orbit a sun-like star that was revealed by direct imaging. At the time, the researchers also obtained a spectrum of the planet and were able to determine many of its characteristics, which are confirmed in the new study.

“In retrospect, this makes our initial data the first spectrum of a confirmed exoplanet ever!,” Lafreniere said.

The spectrum illustrates absorption features due to water vapor, carbon monoxide and molecular hydrogen in the planet’s atmosphere.

Cool!  But wait – is it extrasolar if it’s orbiting another system’s – uh, solar?

The Kepler Satellite – Do You Have Any Idea What It Is?


I always enjoy running across NASA-related news.  What many people don’t know about NASA is that a whole bunch of their business is related to light – light from stars and light reflected off of planets (and moons) can tell us how far away something is located.  “Something,” in this case, could be a star system, supernova explosion, planet group, or something that sucks light – black holes, gas formations, and some really untalented lighting designers I know who have such large egos they have their own home light years from Earth.

So – now that my joke of the post has been launched and crashed into the ground a few feet from the launch pad (you liking all of these space puns?), this is all related to NASA’s Kepler Satellite Program.  It’s all named after Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), an astronomer that invented and discovered a lot of things still used in Astronomy today.  Kepler figured out that our planet (and others) rotates on its axis, explained how our vision and refraction are related, and among a ton of other stuff, explained total internal reflection.

The Kepler Satellite and program is new – Kepler launched in March 2009.  The Data that is being collected is really new, and really strange.  NASA peeps are still analyzing and collecting data – but what kind of data?

The gist of the Kepler program is to use a satellite with a powerful photometer inside that looks for really bright stars like our Sun that could have planetary systems revolving around them.  So, what does this mean?  It means the Kepler mission is seeking out planetary systems around a Sun-like star that could sustain life.  How cool is that?!  The image at the top of this post is the field of view of Kepler.

Ladies and Gentlemen – the Kepler Satellite:



This thing is pretty cool – a nearly meter and a half mirror inside directs light into the internal photometer and camera, which is 95 megapixels (42 CCDs with 2200×1024 pixels), from the NASA site on Kepler.  Check out the entirety of the specs here, on the Kepler satellite mission guide page.  Below is a starmap, with Kepler’s field of view (the group of squares):


Cool stuff!  Check out NASA’s Kepler Mission site.  Give them some traffic!

Thanks, NASA!