The Event Horizon Telescope could capture video of the black hole

We will soon be able to see a black hole in MOTION say scientists behind the world’s first groundbreaking image of M87’s core: Teams say they could ‘make a time-lapse movie’ using seven weeks of observations

  • Last week, scientists showed the first ever image of a black hole to the world
  • The Event Horizon Telescope is a worldwide network of radio telescopes
  • Combined they produce the resolution needed to capture Sagittarius A
  • At a talk the project’s team said that as more telescopes join, they will be able to capture footage of the black hole

The world’s first footage of a black hole in motion could soon be created by the scientists behind a groundbreaking image of the phenomenon released last week.

Experts using the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) say they will produce a video of hot gases whirling chaotically around the shadow or ‘accretion disk’ of the black hole.

The supermassive black hole sits at the centre of the galaxy Messier 87, roughly 54 million light-years from Earth. 

EHT is a ‘virtual’ telescope that uses data from observatories around the world to turn the whole of the Earth into one giant detector. 

Researchers believe that, as more telescopes join the EHT project, they can produce more detailed images and eventually film the black hole. 

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The world’s first footage of a black hole in motion could soon be created by the scientists behind a groundbreaking image of the phenomenon released last week (pictured). Experts say they will produce a video of hot gases whirling chaotically around the black hole

Experts say it would be relatively straightforward to make a movie of the black hole in M87.

To do so, researchers may have to work for seven weeks in a row to get seven individual frames and then see what has moved in between frames.  

‘It turns out that even now, with what we have, we may be able, with certain prior assumptions, to look at rotational signatures [evidence of the accretion disk swirling around the event horizon],’ Shep Doeleman, the Harvard University astronomer who lead the EHT project, told Live Science.

‘And then, if we had many more stations, then we could really start to see in real time movies of the black hole accretion and rotation.

‘If we want to… make a time-lapse movie, then we just go out the next day or the next week.’

The elliptical galaxy Messier 87 (M87) is the home of several trillion stars, a supermassive black hole and a family of roughly 15,000 globular star clusters. 

For comparison, our Milky Way galaxy contains only a few hundred billion stars and about 150 globular clusters. 

The monstrous M87 is the dominant member of the neighbouring Virgo cluster of galaxies, which contains some 2,000 galaxies. 

Discovered in 1781 by Charles Messier, this galaxy is located 54 million light-years away from Earth in the constellation Virgo. 

It can be easily observed using a small telescope, with the most spectacular views available in May. 

The elliptical galaxy Messier 87 (M87) is the home of several trillion stars, a supermassive black hole and a family of roughly 15,000 globular star clusters. This Hubble image is a composite of individual observations in visible and infrared light

M87’s most striking features are the blue jet near the centre and the myriad of star-like globular clusters scattered throughout the image.

The jet is a black-hole-powered stream of material that is being ejected from M87’s core.

As gaseous material from the centre of the galaxy accretes onto the black hole, the energy released produces a stream of subatomic particles that are accelerated to velocities near the speed of light.

At the centre of the Virgo cluster, M87 may have accumulated some of its many globular clusters by gravitationally pulling them from nearby dwarf galaxies that seem to be devoid of such clusters today.

The team is also looking at Sagittarius A* (SagA*), the supermassive black hole at the centre of our own galaxy.

Scientists said at the unveiling of the M87 image last week that they plan to release the first image of that much-nearer object soon. 

But EHT researchers say that this project will be more complicated because  SagA* is about 1,000 times less massive than the M87 black hole.

This means that the image changes 1,000 times more quickly ‘in minutes or hours’. 

‘You have to develop a fundamentally different algorithm, because it’s as if you have the lens cap off on your camera and something’s moving while you’re taking an exposure,’ Mr Douleman added. 

Pictured from left to right: Event Horizon Telescope Director Sheperd Doeleman, National Science Foundation Director France Cordova, University of Arizona Associate Professor of Astronomy Dan Marrone, University of Waterloo Associate Professor Avery Broderick and University of Amsterdam Professor of Theoretical High Energy Astrophysics Sera Markoff


The Galactic centre of the Milky Way is dominated by one resident, the supermassive black hole known as Sagittarius A* (Sgr A*).

Supermassive black holes are incredibly dense areas in the centre of galaxies with masses that can be billions of times that of the sun.

They act as intense sources of gravity which hoover up dust and gas around them. 

Evidence of a black hole at the centre of our galaxy was first presented by physicist Karl Jansky in 1931, when he discovered radio waves coming from the region. 

Pre-eminent yet invisible, Sgr A* has the mass equivalent to some four million suns.  

At just 26,000 light years from Earth, Sgr A* is one of very few black holes in the universe where we can actually witness the flow of matter nearby.

Less than one per cent of the material initially within the black hole’s gravitational influence reaches the event horizon, or point of no return, because much of it is ejected. 

Consequently, the X-ray emission from material near Sgr A* is remarkably faint, like that of most of the giant black holes in galaxies in the nearby universe.

The captured material needs to lose heat and angular momentum before being able to plunge into the black hole. The ejection of matter allows this loss to occur.

To make footage of it, the EHT would have to collect all the data necessary to produce an image of the black hole. 

It would then also have to break up that data up into different chunks by time. 

Then the team would compare the pieces of data to one another using sophisticated algorithms to see how the image changed. 

This approach uses models of how the image would be expected to move, comparing those models to the actual data to see if it fits.

‘You’ve got to be smart and figure out how data from this time slice is related to that time slice right after,’ Mr Doeleman said.

Using this method the team can convert even very limited amounts of data from any given minute into complete pictures of SagA* in motion. 

As a result, the team expects to make movies of the smaller black hole in a single night. 

While black holes are invisible by nature, the ultra-hot material swirling in their midst forms a ring of light around the perimeter that reveals the mouth of the object itself based on its silhouette. This boundary is known as the event horizon. A simulation of the black hole is pictured alongside the history-making new image above


Using a ‘virtual telescope’ built eight radio observatories positioned at different points on the globe, the team behind the Event Horizon Telescope has spent the last few years probing Sagittarius A*, the supermassive black hole at the heart of the Milky Way, and another target in the Virgo cluster of galaxies.

The observations relies on a network of widely spaced radio antennas. 

These are all over the world – in the South Pole, Hawaii, Europe and America.

These radios mimics the aperture of a telescope that can produce the resolution needed to capture Sagittarius A. 

At each of the radio stations there are large hard drives which will store the data.

These hard drives are then processed at the MIT Haystack Observatory just outside Boston, Massachusetts.

The effort is essentially working to capture a silhouette of a black hole, also commonly referred to as the black hole’s shadow.

This would be ‘its dark shape on a bright background of light coming from the surrounding matter, deformed by a strong spacetime curvature,’ the ETH team explains. 

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