Black holes are staples of science fiction films such as Interstellar – but we have never actually seen one.
Yesterday, scientists switched on a global array of telescopes with the aim of imaging a supermassive black hole for the first time.
The Event Horizon Telescope will run from April 5 until April 14 – and could deliver an image as early as this year.
Gopal Narayanan at the University of Massachusetts said, ‘These are the observations that will help us to sort through all the wild theories about black holes. And there are many wild theories.
‘With data from this project, we will understand things about black holes that we have never understood before.
The Event Horizon Telescope will turn our entire planet into a radio dish – using computer power to ‘fill in the gaps’ as huge radio dishes all over the planet ‘tune in’ to the supermassive black hole.
‘There’s great excitement,’ project leader Sheperd Doeleman of the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics told the BBC.
‘We’re going to make the observations that we think have the first real chance of bringing a black hole’s event horizon into focus.’
The scientists hope that the radio telescopes will capture the event horizon – the point beyond which nothing can escape from the black hole, not even light.
It will look like a ring of bright light around a dark blob, they believe – although the black hole is 26,000 light years from Earth, so it’s the size of a pinprick in the night sky.
The scientists describe the project as like ‘trying to photograph a grapefruit on the moon’.