An Earth-Sized Telescope Is About to ‚See‘ a Black Hole For the First Time


Areal picture of the Array Operations Site. Image: W. Garnier/ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)
Areal picture of the Array Operations Site. Image: W. Garnier/ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)
This is the Atacama Large Millimeter Array, also known as ALMA—one of the world’s largest radio telescope arrays, an international partnership that spans four continents. In spring of 2017, ALMA, along with eight other telescopes around the world, will aim towards the center of the Milky Way, around 25,000 light years from Earth, in an attempt to capture the first-ever image of a black hole. This is part of a daring astronomy project called the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT).

By William Rauscher | MOTHERBOARD

My partner Dave Robertson and I took turns huffing from a can of oxygen to stave off the altitude sickness that can come on at 16,500 feet. Our guide Danilo Vidal, an energetic Chilean who wore his dark hair in a ponytail, pointed to a grey metal door with a glass window. “If we open that door,” said Vidal, “everyone in science will hate us for the rest of our lives.” Confused by this cryptic statement, I took another hit from the oxygen and peered through the glass, into the heart of the experiment.

Among a small forest of processors, I could see an eggshell-white box that resembled a dorm room refrigerator. Inside was the brand-new maser, an ultraprecise atomic clock that syncs up every antenna on-site, and then syncs ALMA itself to the Event Horizon Telescope’s global network, lending so much dish-space and processing power that it effectively doubles the entire network’s resolution.

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