Due to the strong pull of gravity, not even light can escape from black holes, whose surface, i.e., the event horizon, cannot be observed directly. However, the boundary which separates photons that are trapped from those that can escape from the incredible gravitational pull is called the black-hole “shadow”, because it would appear as a shadow against a bright lit background.
Despite being so massive, Sgr A* is also very far from us, at a 26,000 light years, making the angular size of the shadow extremely small. Measuring the emission from this surface is therefore equivalent to imaging an apple on the surface of the Moon. To accomplish this ambitious project several radio telescopes across the globe are connected and thus form a virtual telescope with a diameter comparable to the Earth. This technique is called Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI).
The work of BlackHoleCam is lead by Prof. Luciano Rezzolla (ITP, Frankfurt), Prof. Michael Kramer (Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy, Bonn), and by Prof. Heino Falcke (Radboud-University Nijmegen, Netherlands); all of them are important contributors of the EHT collaboration. In the current observations of Sgr A*, network of radiotelescopes from Europe, the United States of America, Middle- and South America, and the South Pole telescope are participating at the same time. During the observations, each telescope records the data on hard disks which are shipped after the end of the campaign to one of the high-performance computer centers in the US or to Bonn. In these centers the individual data of the telescopes are combined by supercomputers and an image can be reconstructed.
This shadow image can be regarded as the starting point for the theoretical research of Prof. Rezzolla's group. Besides predicting theoretically what type of image scientists is expected to observe, the group in Frankfurt is also working on determining whether it will be possible to establish if Einstein’s theory of general relativity is the correct theory of gravity.
These images are computed by solving the equations of relativistic magneto-hydrodynamics and tracing the orbit of photons around black holes in different theories of gravity using state-of-the art numerical tools developed in the group of Prof. Rezzolla. Comparing the synthetic shadow to the observed one may shed light on the existence of one of the most extreme predictions of Einstein’s theory of gravity: the existence of black holes.