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NASA Science

Virtual Telescope Zooms In On Milky Way Black Hole 181

Posted by samzenpus
from the old-bob dept.
FiReaNGeL writes "An international team has obtained the closest views ever of what is believed to be a super-massive black hole at the center of the Milky Way galaxy. The astronomers used radio dishes in Hawaii, Arizona and California to create a virtual telescope more than 2,800 miles across that is capable of seeing details more than 1,000 times finer than the Hubble Space Telescope. The target of the observations was the source known as Sagittarius A* ("A-star"), long thought to mark the position of a black hole whose mass is 4 million times greater than the sun. Though Sagittarius A* was discovered 30 years ago, the new observations for the first time have an angular resolution, or ability to observe small details, that is matched to the size of the event horizon."
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Virtual Telescope Zooms In On Milky Way Black Hole

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  • obligatory (Score:5, Funny)

    by savuporo (658486) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @03:05AM (#24870491)

    Thats your basic Beowulf cluster of telescopes.

  • by nickswitzer (1352967) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @03:23AM (#24870565) Homepage

    An international team has obtained the closest views ever of what is believed to be a super-massive black hole at the center of the Milky Way galaxy.

    *Zoom Out*... "Is that?.. It.. it.. it's Oprah eating a klondike bar. Sorry folks, our mistake."

    • by gardyloo (512791)

      Huh. My first inclination was going to be to make a "None. None more black." joke, but with Oprah, well, I just can't tell.

  • Note (Score:3, Informative)

    by Colin Smith (2679) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @03:23AM (#24870569)

    The milky way is our galaxy.

    Also, 2 different brands of chocolate bar.

     

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by aliquis (678370)

      How very insightful of you, now all you need to do is to break one milky way open and look for any bubbles in it, if you find one tilt the bar so the bubbles interior don't get any light and take a photograph, send your milky way black hole to nasa.

      I can do science me!

    • And The Black Hole was a 1979 Disney movie. I didn't realize there were candy/movie tie-ins like this that predated ET.
  • freeresearcher.com (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 04, 2008 @03:29AM (#24870607)

    "a virtual telescope more than 2,800 miles across that is capable of seeing details more than 1,000 times finer than the Hubble Space Telescope"

    - ok, but HST is an optical telescope, not "radio dish".

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      They both have angular resolution. The radio telescope in question still has 1000 times the angular resolution of Hubble.

      What, exactly, is your peeve here?

    • by Fred_A (10934) <(fred) (at) (fredshome.org)> on Thursday September 04, 2008 @07:40AM (#24871733) Homepage

      "a virtual telescope more than 2,800 miles across that is capable of seeing details more than 1,000 times finer than the Hubble Space Telescope"

      - ok, but HST is an optical telescope, not "radio dish".

      It's all part of the same electromagnetic spectrum [wikipedia.org]. The fact that you can only see a very narrow bit of it doesn't change the fact that the rest can be used to look at things with the right tools. The only difference is wavelength. If you had the right "eyes" it would all be the same to you.

      • by eln (21727) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @09:18AM (#24872517) Homepage

        But if we don't see these things in the visible light spectrum, how will we ever recognize them during sightseeing trips? If someone tells us to "take a left at the purple nebula", but the nebula is actually brown in visible light, then we're going to get really, really lost.

        • by gardyloo (512791)

          Pfft. That nebula smells of orange-sounding elderberries, anyway. You'll know it when you get there.

  • Interferometry (Score:5, Informative)

    by syousef (465911) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @03:31AM (#24870617) Journal

    Can we stop saying "virtual telescopes" and start using the proper grown up terms? Interferometry and Aperture Synthesis aren't hard to understand. It's a pet peeve of mine, and slashdotters should be of a level of intelligence that they can understand this stuff.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Astronomical_interferometer [wikipedia.org]

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aperture_synthesis [wikipedia.org]

    Yes you get the same angular resolution as a much larger telescope (one as big as the distance between the telescopes), which is why you do it. However it's important to note that you you don't increase the amount of radiation you're collecting - it's still just the sum of the telescopes you're using.

    I'll try to put it simply. Let's use optical telescopes as a familiar example. (In practice optical interferometry is much harder than radio astronomy, but I digress). The larger the diameter of the mirror (or lens) the more light we collect, and the smaller an object we can look at with reasonable detail (There is a physical relationship between the diameter of the telescope and the smallest thing you can resolve with it). We could space multiple telescopes a good distance apart and increase how small a piece of the sky we can look at in detail. The detail we could now resolve depends on the distance between the telescopes. However we're still only collecting as much light in total as the sum of the light collected by each scope. So even though we can look at a much smaller part of the sky, we won't be able to brighten up the image as much as if we had the larger telescope. It's still worth doing and it still yields discoveries, but it's not the same as having a massive telescope.

    • by Stormwatch (703920) <rodrigogirao@noSPaM.hotmail.com> on Thursday September 04, 2008 @03:39AM (#24870665) Homepage

      Aperture Synthesis

      We synthesize what we must because we can.

      • by wattersa (629338)

        Aperture Synthesis

        We synthesize what we must because we can.

        In a black hole (and in Soviet Russia), the aperture synthesizes you! No joke.

    • Re:Interferometry (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Maelwryth (982896) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @03:51AM (#24870735)
      Agreed, and in the interests of an intelligent thread (to which I should not be posting) I bring you "STRUCTURE OF SAGITTARIUS A* AT 86 GHz USING VLBI CLOSURE QUANTITIES" [iop.org] which is actually worth reading if you want to get up to date on the research into Sagittarius A*.
    • Re:Interferometry (Score:4, Interesting)

      by jriskin (132491) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @04:02AM (#24870793) Homepage

      Just out of curiosity, how far could you push something like this? If you had an array of Hubble sized telescopes in space and could put them whatever distance you'd like from each other, what sort of results could you get?

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by SJ2000 (1128057)

      Can we stop saying "virtual telescopes" and start using the proper grown up terms? Interferometry and Aperture Synthesis aren't hard to understand. It's a pet peeve of mine, and slashdotters should be of a level of intelligence that they can understand this stuff.

      So in layman's terms, speedy thing goes in, speedy thing comes out?

    • Re:Interferometry (Score:5, Informative)

      by Shag (3737) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @04:35AM (#24870957) Homepage

      Yes. Please.

      And while we're at it, can article-writers stop referring to the submillimeter/microwave portion of the spectrum as "radio"?

      Linking together radio dishes is not a big deal - radio astronomy goes back to the 1930s, and the Very Long Baseline Array has stretched from Hawaii to the Virgin Islands for decades now.

      Linking together JCMT and SMA with some dishes on the mainland is a big deal in submillimeter astronomy. The Cosmic Microwave Background wasn't even discovered until the 1960s, and then it took another couple decades to develop serious observing capabilities. There's plenty of interferometry on Mauna Kea, both within the SMA and between the SMA and JCMT and/or CalTech Submillimeter Observatory, but that's all relatively short-baseline.

      • Re:Interferometry (Score:4, Informative)

        by caluml (551744) <slashdot@spamgoe ... g ['ere' in gap]> on Thursday September 04, 2008 @06:00AM (#24871283) Homepage

        And while we're at it, can article-writers stop referring to the submillimeter/microwave portion of the spectrum as "radio"?

        Just out of interest, why? It is part of the RF spectrum, just way way way up there. It's also good to call it that, because it reminds people that it's part of the same thing as light, xrays, Ham Radio, and mobile phones.

        • Radio - someone still loves youuuuuuu.

          http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=x9slEfTBRXc [youtube.com]

        • Re:Interferometry (Score:4, Interesting)

          by gEvil (beta) (945888) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @08:57AM (#24872339)
          So when do we get the mobile phone telescope? We just need to get thousands of people to point their cellphone cameras at the same spot in the sky, right?
          • Wouldn't work because the antenna's on mobile phones are omnidirectional. Not to mention the signals of interest are thousands of times weaker than mobile phones can detect.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by DerekLyons (302214)

            On reflection after my answer above - it could be made to work, possibly. If the phones can receive and record the signal, and if they can tag it a close intervals with GPS position and timing data... You can subsequently analyze the data streams and form crude 'beams'. Your angular resolution is going to suck rocks however, think in terms of a couple of degrees.

        • by Spatial (1235392)
          The really need reminding, too. I've spoken to far too many people who simply couldn't understand that light, radio waves and all that stuff are basically the same thing. It seems like most people think that radiation is one thing, light is another, and radio is yet another entirely separate phenomenon. It's all magic to them.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by dreamchaser (49529)

      The thing that plugs into your cable or DSL isn't really a 'modem' either but that doesn't stop people from calling it one. 'Virtual telescope' is far easier for laymen to grasp. Yes, slashdotters can for the most part understand this stuff, but your pedantry isn't really called for.

      • Re:Interferometry (Score:4, Informative)

        by Muad'Dave (255648) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @09:43AM (#24872781) Homepage
        I disagree. Your cable modem [wikipedia.org] does indeed MOdulate and DEModulate digital signals to and from analog channels, just like the old-school telephone modem. Amateur radio folk call the things that convert digital signals to an analog representation and back 'modems'.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by john83 (923470)
      A related concept, which I find interesting, is that the diameter of telescopes on earth isn't really the limiting factor. In the ideal situation, yes, a bigger aperture gives you better resolution, but in practice, you have to compensate for atmospheric turbulence first, using something like adaptive optics (where you use a deformable mirror). I've been told that some telescopes (like the Pan Starr) now do this step digitally.
    • by Snaller (147050)

      "lashdotters should be of a level of intelligence that they can understand this stuff."

      Since when?

    • Re:Interferometry (Score:5, Insightful)

      by eclectic4 (665330) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @07:45AM (#24871761)
      "Interferometry and Aperture Synthesis aren't hard to understand."

      Then...

      "I'll try to put it simply..."

      And with two wiki links included? Sheesh... now I know you stated that /.ers "should be of a level of intelligence that they can understand this stuff", which I believe is true enough, but you greatly underestimate our laziness. "Virtual telescope" works just fine for me... IANAA, and I never will be, sorry.
      • by syousef (465911)

        And with two wiki links included? Sheesh... now I know you stated that /.ers "should be of a level of intelligence that they can understand this stuff", which I believe is true enough, but you greatly underestimate our laziness. "Virtual telescope" works just fine for me... IANAA, and I never will be, sorry.

        Well then why bother to read the article at all?

        Better yet, if you're so lazy why reply like this? You could have spent the same amount of time skimming one of the articles.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by mbone (558574)

        Yes, but in astronomy virtual telescope generally means a computer compilation of various sky surveys [nasa.gov], so you can type in a coordinate and see what is there. This is totally different, VLBI provides a real telescopic view, just synthesized by interferometry.

        As an analogy, Google Earth is a virtual spy satellite. An orbiting synthetic aperture radar is a real spy satellite, just with a synthesized image.

    • The very fact that you had to provide wikipedia links to define Interferometry and Aperture Synthesis are precisely why the author of TFA did not use those terms to describe the telescope.

      Steve

    • by Vellmont (569020)


      Can we stop saying "virtual telescopes" and start using the proper grown up terms?

      Why? Virtual telescope is a lot more meaningful to people who aren't radio astronomers (which is essentially everyone) than interferometry and aperture synthesis. This isn't about "level of intelligence", it's about conveying information. Virtual telescope conveys a lot more information to non-experts. It's great to have more information about how exactly they combine these telescopes together, but there's no need to get

  • Obligatory (Score:4, Funny)

    by bemo56 (1251034) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @03:36AM (#24870645)
    Black Holes suck!

    - I'll be here the whole week. Tip your waitress. Try the veal.

  • Pics? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Feanturi (99866) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @03:38AM (#24870655)
    Pics or it didn't happen
    • Re:Pics? (Score:5, Funny)

      by Psychotria (953670) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @03:52AM (#24870739)

      Pics or it didn't happen

      I believe that the pictures look pretty similar to the screenshots of Doom 4.

    • Help Wanted? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Nymz (905908)

      Pics or it didn't happen

      Oh, we have lots of pretty pictures (of colorful surrounding gas). We just don't have enough picture details to determine what it is, that is happening.

      What we could really use, like out of a science fiction story, is to stumble upon an ancient astronomer's time-lapse photo project. About 10-20 million years should be sufficient. But in case our stumbling plan fails, how would like to go down in history, sayyyy in 10-20 million years from now, as the guy who got the ball rolling?

    • Re:Pics? (Score:5, Funny)

      by suds (6610) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @04:46AM (#24871017) Homepage

      Here is one high resolution picture of the blackhole

      .

    • Pics or it didn't happen

      Here you go. [photobucket.com]

    • In the radio astronomy world, the picture is most often a graph. Once in a while, we make low-resolution false-color pictures, created by scanning the antenna over the sky region in a raster pattern. Very tedious work. If you read the article, you'll see a graph with wiggly lines representing the interference fringes. This is as close as you'll get to a picture, and believe me, when an astronomer sees a graph with the right wiggles, they get very excited!
  • by TechnoBunny (991156) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @03:54AM (#24870753)
    HeRE! [photobucket.com]
    • by Fex303 (557896)

      Modded down as troll and a link going to Photobucket. How could I resist the temptation to click on a link like that?

      I was expecting something eye-scarringly horrific, instead I came out vaguely disappointed, yet also somewhat relieved.

      Well played, sir.

  • the moon and various satellites spin around the earth
    the earth and various other planetary objects spins around our sun
    our sun spins around a giant black hole
    what does the giant black hole spin around?
  • Paths (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 04, 2008 @04:20AM (#24870889)

    Sagittarius A* ?
    Dijkstra's Scorpio is better :)

    Ok ok, I'm not a space nerd!

    • by raddan (519638)
      I consider myself a pretty typical geek, but I have no idea what that means. It's not ringing any bells with the Dijkstra that I'm familiar with, and in recursive-geek-irony, googling "Dijkstra's Scorpio" yields your very post. Someone care to enlighten me?
  • Muse (Score:5, Funny)

    by invisiblerhino (1224028) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @04:38AM (#24870967)
    As a physicist, I sometimes wish I could hear the words 'supermassive black hole' in a professional context without immediately thinking of that catchy song from their new album.
    • it's still weird to me to hear that old nirvana song where they mention a magnetar in the context of lyrics about relationship issues

  • by Frightened_Turtle (592418) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @07:49AM (#24871785)

    Hmm..... Near the "A-Star"?

    Does this mean that in the center of our galaxy is the biggest "A-Hole" in our galaxy?

  • Gee, after 40 frigging years of VLBI you think people would have some clue about aperture synthesis. It ain't no virtual telescope, it's just as real as any other, it's just that the images are done after the fact.

  • by Bragador (1036480) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @10:00AM (#24872979)
  • by da007 (242994) <dynamicdna@ g m a i l . c om> on Thursday September 04, 2008 @10:33AM (#24873383) Homepage

    Sagittarius A* - Previous location of the Large Hadron Collider

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