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Dark Star Diaries

The telescopic journey to the edge of a black hole
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    Seth Fletcher Seth Fletcher is a senior editor. Follow on Twitter @seth_fletcher.
  • Building an Earth-Size Telescope, 1 Station at a Time

    The Large Millimeter Telescope in the Mexican state of Puebla

    Imagine a trio of aerobatic aircraft. Over the years they’ve gotten very good at their routine. But they want to add another five or six or seven members. They also want to upgrade from propeller planes to jets, with custom engines and digital avionics. And they plan to do all of this upgrading and expanding [...]

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    Hunting Black Holes at the South Pole

    The South Pole Telescope. Credit: Daniel Luong-Van, National Science Foundation

    Each of the telescopes that the astronomers of the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) are currently working to bring into their black-hole-observing, planet-size array is a special case. Mexico’s Large Millimeter Telescope, for example, is an enormous single dish on top of an exceptionally high mountain, not to mention the biggest science project of any kind [...]

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    Quasars, Black Holes, and the Origins of “Intercontinental Radio Astronomy”

    Owens Valley interferometer

    Not long ago I came across a piece in the Scientific American archives from the earliest days of very-long baseline radio interferometry, the technique employed by the Event Horizon Telescope. As readers of this blog will know, the Event Horizon Telescope is a planet-size array of radio telescopes, currently being developed, that will soon be [...]

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    The Black Hole in Interstellar Looks Amazingly Realistic

    SgrA_bestfit (1)

    Wired has a fun piece about physicist and black-hole guru Kip Thorne’s work on the film Interstellar, which comes out November 7. We’ve known the premise of the film for a long time: Earth is a disaster, the human race is on the verge of extinction, and mankind must find a new home. Alas, space [...]

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    Giving ALMA a Heart Transplant

    The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA). Credit: ESO/C. Malin

    Before they can see Sagittarius A*, the black hole at the center of the Milky Way, the astronomers of the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) must complete an epic to-do list. The most important item on that list: Bring the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) into the group. It’s easy to see why. After all, ALMA [...]

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    Time Travel: Installing an Atomic Clock at 15,000 Feet

    The Large Millimeter Telescope in the Mexican state of Puebla

    A few months ago I went to Cambridge, Mass. to check in with the Event Horizon Telescope crew and found Shep Doeleman, the project leader, fresh off the completion of a major purchase. He and his colleagues had just closed a deal on two hydrogen masers, among the most precise atomic clocks available. He displayed [...]

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    Cloud Bound for Milky Way’s Black Hole Puzzles Astronomers

    A simulation of the G2 dust cloud approaching the black hole at the center of the Milky Way. Stellar orbits around the black hole are traced in blue. Credit: M. Schartmann and L. Calcada/ European Southern Observatory and Max-Planck-Institut fur Extraterrestrische Physik.

    For the past year, astronomers around the world have been watching the center of the Milky Way in anticipation of a once-per-eon event. Right around now (or, technically, 24,000 years ago—that’s roughly how far away the galactic center is in light years), a cloud of gas and dust plummeting toward our galaxy’s supermassive black hole, [...]

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    How to Build an Earth-Size Telescope

    The full Event Horizon Telescope array

    Looking into the galactic center is hard. So much dust and gas lies between us and the center of the Milky Way that very little of the visible light emitted there makes it to us. We can peek through that dust and gas by collecting x-rays, infrared radiation, and radio waves. Even then, however, resolving [...]

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    How to See a Black Hole: Introducing Dark Star Diaries

    Sagittarius A*

    The image you see here is a computer-generated model of the black hole at the center of the Milky Way, which we call Sagittarius A*. More precisely, it is a model of the “shadow” that Sagittarius A*, with its mass of four million suns, should cast. The glowing blob in the lower right corner is [...]

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