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A clearer picture of a black hole thanks to smart algorithms

A clearer picture of a black hole thanks to smart algorithms

It was a historic moment when the first image of a black hole was revealed in 2019. The image spread around the world. Now scientists have been able to get a much clearer picture.

They made a close-up of a supermassive black hole using new mathematical algorithms and telescope data. A sharp orange-red ring of photons can be seen circling around the back of the supermassive black hole.

The image of 2019 shows a black heart, surrounded by a fiery aura of space matter as it is sucked toward the core. The scientists responsible for this believe that clearer images can be generated from the available data, and now a new method has worked.

This is the original 2019 image of the M87 black hole*:

Black hole. Photo: Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) / ESO

Bright orange glow of photons
A group of scholars from Harvard and Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics In Cambridge, Massachusetts in America they developed an intelligent algorithm and combined it with previous theoretical predictions in order to “rework” the original images of a supermassive black hole. After running several simulations, it became clear that behind this bright orange glow lies a thin and bright ring of light. This ring consists of photons that fly behind the black hole under the influence of massive gravity.

In 2017, the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) captured the first images of the giant black hole in the center of the galaxy Messier 87* (M87*) in the constellation Virgo. The estimated mass of this black hole is about seven billion solar masses, or two quadrillion (2,000,000,000,000) masses larger than Earth’s.

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Theory and practice meet
Research results published in the journal Astrophysical Journal, match theoretical predictions and give new insight into these mysterious space objects. Scientists believe that supermassive black holes, which may have formed as a result of the merging of many black holes, can be found at the center of almost all galaxies. Our Milky Way galaxy also has a supermassive black hole at its center called Sagittarius A*. This black hole is relatively small relative to a supermassive black hole, but it is very dynamic.

Astronomer and co-author Dominic Pesce of Harvard university. “Our model divides the reconstructed image into two parts that help us the most. Then, we can study both parts in detail.”

steel code and computer
“The EHT is indispensable for the search for knowledge of black holes. But at least as important as the steel that telescopes are made of are the mathematical algorithms with which we organize and interpret data,” explains research leader Avery Broderick. “Thanks to the new algorithms, we can achieve clearer accuracy and optimal use of EHT data.”

The visual image consists of all kinds of layers, which are superimposed on each other. We always remove a layer from it. This way we learn more and more about the environment of the black hole,” co-researcher Hong Yibo said.

Focusing with nano precision
Black holes had long been thought to be invisible using a telescope, but that changed when the EHT network focused entirely on these mysterious space objects. The EHT consists of eight observatories on four different continents, all lined up in the same space and aligned for nanoseconds. In this way, two black holes were found in 2017, in M87 * and in our Milky Way galaxy.

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“We are developing an improved version of the EHT, with more telescopes and improving the quality and quantity of data and images. This way we can learn more about supermassive black holes. In fact, we have only glimpsed these amazing phenomena since 2017, ”said researcher Paul Ted. He will join other members of the Harvard EHT team in the coming years black hole initiative Dive further into the wonderful world of supermassive black holes.

Low- and high-resolution images captured by the Event Horizon Telescope can be found on the Harvard website:

Sharp black hole. Photo: Broderick et al. 2022, ApJ, 935, 61