Pictures of Black Hole Coming Wednesday

So exciting!

Black holes are some of the most intriguing and mysterious objects in the universe, inspiring entire libraries of both scientific research and science fiction, from Einstein to the movie Interstellar. Yet despite the hold that their inconceivable gravity has on our imaginations, as well as our understanding of physics, humans have never actually seen a black hole.

That appears set to change Wednesday with the impending release of the first image taken of Sagittarius A, the black hole at the center of our Milky Way galaxy. It’s a landmark moment for both science and technology made possible by the Event Horizon Telescope, which is actually an array telescopes spread out across the Earth.

[…]

The EHT is actually an array of radio telescopes on different sides of the globe that are linked to create what’s called a Very Long Baseline Interferometer (VLBI) the size of the Earth itself. The basic idea here is that radio telescopes in different locations are combining their signals to boost their power.

If you’ve seen pictures of the Very Large Array in New Mexico (featured prominently in the 1997 movie Contact) with its multiple telescopic dishes all working together, then you can visualize the concept: Just imagine Jodie Foster tapping into an array of dishes that are separated not by meters but by thousands of miles instead.

This planet-sized observatory is necessary because, as the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory explains in the below animation, while Sagittarius A is 4 million times as massive as our sun, it’s still really far away — a distance of about 26,000 light years.

This is, of course, good news for all people interested in not getting sucked into a black hole, but it makes the thing very hard to photograph; it would be comparable to trying to see the dimples on a golf ball in Los Angeles… from New York. Better get out your super zoom lens, which is also kind of what the Event Horizon Telescope is.