Shanghai residents will be among the first to see the first close-up photograph of a black hole at 9pm on Wednesday when it is unveiled at simultaneous press conferences in Shanghai, Taipei, Brussels, Santiago, Tokyo and Washington DC.
The “photographer” was the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT), a giant virtual telescope with a diameter equal to that of the Earth.
Formed by eight of the world’s top radio telescopes scattered across the globe, it could allow astronomers to clearly see an orange on the Moon.
In April 2017, it took pictures on two supermassive black holes. Sagittarius A*, with a mass of 4 million suns, is at the center of the Milky Way, and the other, unnamed, is at the center of the neighboring Virgo A galaxy, weighing 1,500 times that of Sagittarius A*.
It is not known which picture is being unveiled. But it took two years to produce the close-up because that required calculations to “fill in the missing parts” that the giant “telescope” failed to photograph.
The project involved more than 200 astronomers around the world, with Chinese scientists among them.
Black holes are places in space that swallow almost everything. They are stars that have collapsed under their own gravity, with the remnants pressed into super-dense holes, tens to millions of times as massive as the sun, where gravity is so strong even light cannot escape.
Black holes tear up nearby stars and when material falls into them, they emit great energy, generating bright light and massive radiation through collision and friction, leading astronomers to their location.
Until now, no one really knew what a black hole looked like.
Over the years, they have been depicted in many ways in movies, but it is generally held that the depiction in the hit movie “Interstellar” is close to reality.
Similar to the shape of Saturn, the black hole in the movie is a massive, rapidly spinning hole with a glowing ring of matter encircling it. The image was created based on input from physicist Kip Thorne at the California Institute of Technology.