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Event Horizon Telescope aims to turn Earth into a giant radio telescope

It will take first ever pictures of a black hole, 25,000 light years away

CNN  — 

Despite what Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar” and fancy NASA visualizations may have led you to believe, we’ve never actually seen a black hole.

We know they’re there. There’s one at the center of our Milky Way galaxy, Sagittarius A*, for that matter.

But while Sagittarius A* is around 24 million kilometers in diameter – 17 times bigger than our sun – it’s more than 25,000 light years away, making getting a good look at it nearly impossible.

According to MIT’s Katie Bouman, photographing the black hole would be “equivalent to taking an image of a grapefruit on the moon, but with a radio telescope.”

“To image something this small means that we would need a telescope with a 10,000-kilometer diameter, which is not practical, because the diameter of the Earth is not even 13,000 kilometers,” she said in a statement.

Red flashes reveal black hole feeding on star

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However, a new method, developed by Bouman and members of the Event Horizon Telescope team, may have the answer.

A network of nine radio telescopes, dotted around the globe, will take measurements at “widely divergent locations,” combining the pictures to make it as if scientists were looking at one giant radio telescope.

Bouman says radio wavelengths come with a lot of advantages.

“Just like how radio frequencies will go through walls, they pierce through galactic dust. We would never be able to see into the center of our galaxy in visible wavelengths because there’s too much stuff in between.”

An algorithm, developed by Bouman and her colleagues, will fill in the gaps and filter out the interference and noise caused by our own atmosphere.

The Event Horizon Telescope recently completed most of its technical preparations and could produce humanity’s first ever picture of a black hole by 2017.