Network of space telescopes for better black hole images

Last month we saw how with a network of multiple telescopes (the Event Horizon Telescope or EHT) scattered around the earth it is possible to find images of objects farther away or with a much weaker brightness than with a single telescope. But what happens if this network of telescopes is put into orbit around the Earth? The positive effects, in terms of image quality and reachable distance, would be multiplied and this is also confirmed by new research that studies precisely this possible application and has been published in Astronomy & Astrophysics.

The concept, called Horizon Imager Event (EHI), would involve the positioning of two or more satellites in a circular orbit around the Earth, a network that would make it easier to observe black holes. With such a system, according to scientists, it would also be possible to photograph Sagittarius A*, the large black hole that lies at the center of our galaxy and that could not be photographed with Earth’s telescopes because of a strong haze and dust clouds between the black hole and ourselves.

According to Freek Roelofs, the main author of the study and researcher at Freek Roelofs, the advantages of using satellites or space telescopes instead of terrestrial radio telescopes would be countless: “In space, you can make observations at higher radio frequencies, because from Earth these are filtered out of the atmosphere. The distances between telescopes in space are also greater. This allows us to take a big step forward. We may be able to shoot images with a resolution five times higher than is possible with EHT.”

In addition, the very fact that these satellites move around the Earth and are not as fixed as permanent satellites on the Earth’s surface can be used to gain even more advantages and to get detailed images of almost real black holes in all their details. The biggest problem with such a system would be the forwarding of the acquired data from the telescopes. We would certainly be talking about very large amounts of data.

These could be sent to Earth through a laser link after being partially processed onboard the satellites themselves. Moreover, in order to work properly, the system requires a very precise calculation of the position and speed of the satellites, which is more difficult than a system of permanent terrestrial radio telescopes.

In general, however, scientists believe it is a feasible project, perhaps creating a hybrid system with satellites that work in combination with radio telescopes on Earth.

Alfredo Gonsalez

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