Global Telescope Network Aims to Capture Black Hole "Flickers"

Scientists behind the 1st black hole image are building a global telescope network to film black holes. This "movie" will capture how these cosmic giants change, revealing secrets about gravity and the universe's behavior.

Global Telescope Network Aims to Capture Black Hole "Flickers"
The Event Horizon Telescope captured the first image of a black hole. Now, they're building a global telescope to film them!

On a clear, starlit night, far from the luminous intrusions of modern civilization, a group of scientists gathered at the UNAM Astronomical Observatory in San Pedro Mártir, Baja California. These astronomers and physicists, with their eyes trained on the heavens and their minds firmly anchored in the realm of theoretical astrophysics, are part of an audacious quest. Their mission? To transform our understanding of the most enigmatic and powerful objects in the universe: black holes.

The Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) collaboration, a global network of synchronized radio dishes, famously captured the first-ever image of a black hole in 2019. This feat, heralded as a scientific breakthrough of the decade, provided humanity with an unprecedented glimpse of the shadowy maw at the heart of galaxy M87. But the EHT team, led by the visionary Sheperd Doeleman, has grander ambitions. They plan to make "movies" of black holes, revealing their dynamic behavior over time.

To achieve this cinematic awesomeness, the EHT needs more antennas—cutting-edge instruments strategically placed around the globe. Doeleman explains that this expansion will include new installations in Mexico, Spain, Chile, and the United States. Among these sites, the UNAM Astronomical Observatory is set to play a pivotal role. With the addition of new equipment to the Alfonso Serrano Large Millimeter Telescope in Puebla, Mexican scientists are poised to make significant contributions to this cosmic enterprise.

The recent Annual Meeting of the EHT International Collaboration, held at the National University’s Postgraduate Unit, buzzed with excitement. Researchers discussed the technical and logistical challenges ahead, but the focus was on the enormous scientific rewards. "We are looking for resources to be assembled," Doeleman noted, "because the knowledge we obtain from these studies of the universe is so deep that it is definitely worth it." He confidently predicted that by the decade's end, enough images would be collected to produce the first black hole movie.

Sera Markoff, an EHT collaborator from the University of Amsterdam, emphasized the importance of continuous observation. "In this type of work, the repetition of images is crucial," she explained. Black holes, despite their name, are anything but static. They interact with their surroundings in ways that can produce dramatic and sometimes unpredictable changes. For instance, a powerful gamma-ray flare observed in 2018, which was also detected in X-rays, prompted a re-evaluation of General Relativity against observational data.

Markoff's enthusiasm for the project is infectious. "Beyond having a photo," she said, "we want to create a film with the images starting in 2021." The acceleration in data processing capabilities means that this ambitious goal is within reach. She envisions a revolution in our understanding, comparing new images with data from other telescopes to reveal the intricate dance of matter around black holes.

The Puzzle of Sagittarius A*

While the M87 black hole has provided a treasure trove of data, the black hole at the center of our own galaxy, Sagittarius A*, presents its own mysteries. Unlike M87, Sagittarius A* appears quiescent, lacking the energy jets typically associated with active black holes. This discrepancy has puzzled scientists. Is Sagittarius A* in a dormant phase, or are we missing crucial details due to observational challenges?

Markoff pondered this difficult question aloud. "What are we missing?" she asked. "Either the center of Sagittarius A* is 'off,' or we can't see it because observing something in the center of the galaxy is complicated." Understanding these differences is key to unlocking the secrets of black hole behavior on a grand scale.

The EHT’s ambitious plan requires a global effort. Researchers from Mexico, Germany, Brazil, Korea, Spain, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Japan, and other nations have joined forces, coordinated by the Institutes of Radio Astronomy and Astrophysics, and the Institute of Astronomy at UNAM. This international collaboration is a testament to the universal allure of uncovering the mysteries of the cosmos.


From snapshots to movies: capturing black hole behavior in motion will unlock cosmic secrets.

To capture a true high-definition image of a black hole, data from space is essential. While terrestrial observations have laid the groundwork, the next decade promises even clearer insights. As new observatories come online and technological advancements continue, the dream of filming black holes edges closer to reality.

In the meantime, the night skies over San Pedro Mártir and other observatories around the world will be filled with the silent, determined vigil of scientists peering through the cosmic keyhole. They are not just looking for answers; they are crafting the universe's most compelling documentary, frame by frame, photon by photon. As the stars twinkle above, one cannot help but feel a sense of awe and anticipation for the cinematic masterpiece that is yet to come.