JUN 16, 2020 3:59 AM PDT

What Will it Take to Photograph a Black Hole's Photon Ring?

WRITTEN BY: Anthony Bouchard

Just over a year ago, astronomers tapped into the power of the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT), a network of eight radio telescopes scattered across the globe, to capture the very first true photograph of a black hole. The lucky black hole that got its now famous self-portrait captured by the EHT was none other than M87*.

The photograph didn’t appear as much else than a hazy photograph of a glowing ring with a dark black blob in the center of it, and that’s because we effectively photographed the black hole’s accretion disk. Black holes in and of themselves are, after all, invisible because they absorb all nearby light. That said, the dark mass at the center is actually the black hole’s shadow.

One thing the photograph didn’t reveal, however, is the theoretical photon ring. In this region around a black hole, photons can be influenced by the black hole’s gravity enough to make them orbit the black hole, but not quite enough to drag them in completely. Instead, those photons are able to escape the gravitational influence and escape away to an observer.

Einstein’s theory of general relativity insinuates that such a photon ring would have to exist, but with no proof to back that theory up, it isn’t something that we can yet accept as fact. But here’s the problem: if a radio telescope the size of our Earth couldn’t pick it up, just how big of a telescope would we need to make it happen?

As it would seem, it may be possible to increase the resolution of the existing EHT with just one more radio telescope component. But instead of having that component here on Earth, astronomers have proposed including a space-based component, either orbiting the Earth or situated on the Moon. Doing this would increase the EHT’s resolution and provide a less obscured image due to the lack of an atmosphere, and it would be potentially clear enough to at least confirm or deny whether such a photon ring exists.

It could be a while before the EHT adopts another observation element, but when it does, the scientific community will be ready.

Related: What makes black holes so mysterious?

About the Author
  • Fascinated by scientific discoveries and media, Anthony found his way here at LabRoots, where he would be able to dabble in the two. Anthony is a technology junkie that has vast experience in computer systems and automobile mechanics, as opposite as those sound.
You May Also Like
MAR 15, 2020
Space & Astronomy
This Exoplanet Rains... Iron!?
MAR 15, 2020
This Exoplanet Rains... Iron!?
Many of us take the Earth and its many ‘normal’ characteristics for granted, but there are so many exoplanet ...
MAR 31, 2020
Space & Astronomy
Can Viruses Survive in Outer Space?
MAR 31, 2020
Can Viruses Survive in Outer Space?
Outer space is often depicted as a harsh environment. It’s effectively an airless vacuum, and anything residing th ...
APR 05, 2020
Space & Astronomy
These Incredible Concepts Could Get Astronauts to Mars Sooner
APR 05, 2020
These Incredible Concepts Could Get Astronauts to Mars Sooner
The idea of putting humans on Mars for first-time exploration isn’t too far-fetched. Space agencies and large comm ...
APR 12, 2020
Space & Astronomy
NASA Attaches Autonomous Helicopter to Perseverance Rover
APR 12, 2020
NASA Attaches Autonomous Helicopter to Perseverance Rover
Those paying any attention to NASA’s periodic updates during these past several weeks should have perceived what s ...
APR 19, 2020
Space & Astronomy
NASA Pegs Official Launch Date for First Crewed SpaceX Flight
APR 19, 2020
NASA Pegs Official Launch Date for First Crewed SpaceX Flight
Those who’ve been following the hype shared by both NASA and SpaceX during the past couple of years would know tha ...
JUN 14, 2020
Space & Astronomy
SpaceX Launches First Rideshare Mission with Great Success
JUN 14, 2020
SpaceX Launches First Rideshare Mission with Great Success
If you’ve been following SpaceX, then you’d know that the commercial space company has been launching quite ...
Loading Comments...