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See what future black hole images might look like from space

A space-based system of satellites could give us much sharper views of black holes.


The first ever image of a black hole captured with the planet-wide virtual array called the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT). The light is being pulled into the black hole at the center of the Messier 87 galaxy over 50 million light-years away. 

Event Horizon Telescope

The very first image of a black hole rocked our little minds in April, but not everyone was impressed. Some likened the fuzzy circular shape to the Eye of Sauron, the Firefox logo or a doughnut. Now the race is on to one day deliver a sharper view of a black hole. 

A team of researchers led by astronomer Freek Roelofs at Radboud University in the Netherlands is proposing the creation of the Event Horizon Imager, a space-based system consisting of two or three satellites in Earth orbit that could capture crisper black hole images. They detailed the concept in a paper just published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

The first black hole image came about through the collaborative efforts of the Event Horizon Telescope, a network of ground-based telescopes located around the world. 

A space-based system wouldn't have to contend with Earth's atmosphere and would also be able to take advantage of larger distances between the orbiting telescopes. "We would be able to take images with a resolution more than five times what is possible with the EHT," Roelofs said

The scientists created a simulated view of the Sagittarius A* black hole at the center of the Milky Way to give us an idea of what an Event Horizon Imager might be able to do and how it would compare with the Event Horizon Telescope.


These images show simulations of the Sagittarius A* black hole at different frequencies. The top set shows how it might look to the ground-based Event Horizon Telescope, while the bottom set shows how it might appear to a space-based Event Horizon Imager.

F. Roelofs and M. Moscibrodzka, Radboud University

The simulated image shows a more defined vision of a black hole. You wouldn't mistake if for a doughnut or a bagel, but it does bear a resemblance to a coffee ring.

There are challenges to creating a satellite system like this. "The concept demands that you must be able to ascertain the position and speed of the satellites very accurately," said researcher Volodymyr Kudriashov with the Radboud Radio Lab and the European Space Agency. "But we really believe that the project is feasible." 

The Event Horizon Telescope project is continuing its groundbreaking work, but it may one day be joined by the next generation of black hole paparazzi -- in space.