Just three months ago, scientists unveiled the first photograph of a black hole: A region of space where gravity is so strong that not even light can escape it.
So, how were images finally created after years of public fascination? CGTN’s Hendrik Sybrandy reports from Denver.
Inside an ordinary building in Colorado, a company called Conduant builds recording devices with extraordinary capabilities.
“Each one of these drive modules can hold up to 80 terabytes of data using 10 terabyte drives,” Alex Sammoury detailed.
Those storage systems record data at high speeds and in large quantities, benefiting a range of customers, including astronomers.
“The quantities of data that the radio astronomy community gathers are astronomical,” Phil Brunelle, the company’s CTO, said.
Now the small manufacturer Phil Brunelle co-founded more than two decades ago was a part of history. In April, the National Science Foundation revealed the never-before-seen image of the supermassive black hole at the center of the M-87 galaxy 55 billion light-years away from Earth.
“We’re delighted to be able to report to you today that we have seen what we thought was unseeable. We have seen and taken a picture of a black hole,” Shep Doeleman, from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, declared.
As impressive as the photograph was the way the Event Horizon Telescope, as it was called, created it. It was the culmination of a ten-year-project.
A global network of eight telescopes combined to form a virtual telescope the size of Earth which, over four nights in 2017, recorded the radio waves from in and around the black hole.
That data, captured on these hard drives, was assembled by a supercomputer into a final image. “There was a beautiful picture that came out that we spotted on the internet with one of the scientists with her arms around our storage units,” Brunelle said. “So, that made it really clear that we were involved.”
The scientist he mentioned said the small number of telescopes posed a challenge to her and her colleagues. “That means there’s gaps of missing information and so we had to come up with techniques to intelligently fill in those gaps,” researcher Katie Bouman said.
Astronomers said the circular shadow of the black hole, visible for the first time, confirms Albert Einstein’s now century-old general theory of relativity.
“We now know clearly that black holes drive large scale structure in the universe from their home in these galaxies,” Doeleman added. “We now have an entirely new way of studying general relativity that we never had before.”
A discovery that Conduant’s storage systems, with their speed and capacity, made possible. Scientists will be talking about and trying to improve upon, the black hole photo for years to come.