Three telescopes on two continents have been connected to capture the sharpest ever images of the luminous center of a remote galaxy.
Quasar 3C 279 is more than 5 billion light-years from Earth, and is home to a supermassive black hole with a mass around 1 billion times that of the sun.
Using Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI), an international team of astronomers linked the The Atacama Pathfinder Experiment (APEX) in Chile with two telescopes in the United States: the Submillimeter Array (SMA) in Hawaii, and the Submillimeter Telescope (SMT) in Arizona.
Effectively the three telescopes became a single one as large as the distance or baseline separating them.
The observations are 2 million times finer than human vision with a sharpness of about 8 billionths of a degree.
This achievement is an important step toward the Event Horizon Telescope project, which aims to connect multiple telescopes and image the shadow of the black hole at the Milky Way’s center, among others.
The shadow is a hypothesized region caused by the black hole bending light, and would be the first direct observation proving the existence of an event horizon, the space-time boundary that even light cannot escape.
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