It looks like scientists will soon be able to take the first-ever photograph of a black hole. You know, one of those really cool vacuum like holes in space that are often featured in science fiction films. But actually, it’s a region of space where a giant star has collapsed on itself, thus forming a point in the fabric of space/time that becomes super dense. The gravitational pull of a black hole is so strong that not even light can escape it.
It’s not hard to understand how the mechanics of a black hole would make it rather difficult to photograph (because there’s no light, ya dingus). However, there’s a new project aiming to achieve that feat called The Event Horizon Telescope. The EHT is a network of telescopes located around the world dedicated to focusing on the black hole at the centre of the Milky Way, Sagittarius A*, which is 25,000 light years away.
If we’re getting technical, the photo will really be of the event horizon, not of the black hole itself. No, the event horizon isn’t the bad sci-fi horror movie from the 90s, it’s just a fancy way to describe the boundary of the black hole. This is the space where light and debris and dust swirl before being flushed down the space-toilet that is a black hole.
Learning more about the structure of black holes could teach us a lot about how galaxies are formed. But one of the central purposes of photographing the event horizon is to test Einstein’s theory of general relativity.
According to Einstein’s theory, the photo should really look like a crescent of light surrounding the black hole, not unlike the what we saw in Christopher Nolan’s 2014 film Interstellar. Scientists are pretty confident such will be the case, but having photographic evidence could offer further proof that Einstein’s general theory of relativity is correct. If not, it will help them learn where his theory breaks down and push them toward new answers.