Black Hole Photos Could Get Even Clearer with Space-Based Telescopes

The first-ever photo of a black hole from the Event Horizon Telescope team amazed people across the world. Now, astronomers are targeting to take even sharper images of these mysterious entities by sending radio telescopes into space.

The historic photo of the supermassive black hole and its shadow was released to the public on April 10, when the eight ground-based radio telescopes research collaboration called the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) unveiled the somewhat hazy but nevertheless incredible photo of the supermassive black hole at the center of the galaxy Messier 87.

Astronomers at Netherland’s Radboud University have recently shared their plans to join forces with the European Space Agency (ESA) and others to get a better look at black holes by deploying two to three satellites in a circular orbit around Earth to form the Event Horizon Imager (EHI).

The resolution of a radio image is restricted by the size of the telescope that receives the image. Thus,  EHT used a network of eight dish telescopes positioned around the world to basically turn Earth into a planet-sized virtual telescope. By increasing the distances between the radio observations, in the future, astronomers could present a clearer, more detailed image of a black hole to the public, Radboud University researchers said in a statement. The detailed plans will be published in a forthcoming article in the scientific journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

The Event Horizon Telescope, a planet-scale array of eight ground-based radio telescopes forged through international collaboration, captured this image of the supermassive black hole and its shadow that’s in the center of the galaxy M87.

Freek Roelofs, a researcher at Radboud University and lead author of an article describing this potential project, said in the statement, “There are lots of advantages to using satellites instead of permanent radio telescopes on Earth, as with the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT)“.

Roelofs added, “In space, you can make observations at higher radio frequencies because the frequencies from Earth are filtered out by the atmosphere. The distances between the telescopes in space are also larger. This allows us to take a big step forward. We would be able to take images with a resolution more than five times what is possible with the EHT.”

According to the statement, crisper imagery by EHI of a black hole would not only offer more aesthetics but also could be instrumental in a detailed test of Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity.  Heino Falcke, radio astronomer at Radboud University and co-author on the new work, explained in the statement, ‘‘You can take near perfect images to see the real details of black holes. If small deviations from Einstein’s theory occur, we should be able to see them.

EHI is initially planned function independent of the EHT, but a hybrid system combining space observations with those received on ground-based observatories could be a possibility.

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