mtex antenna technology selected to develop new telescope to capture black hole movies

6. September 2023

The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO), part of the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian (CfA), has selected mtex antenna technology GmbH of Wiesbaden Germany to design and build new antennas for the next-generation Event Horizon Telescope (ngEHT).

The ngEHT project builds upon the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT), which linked together existing radio dishes around the globe to study and image the environments directly around supermassive black holes. In April 2019, the EHT produced the first image of a black hole, widely considered one of the most viewed scientific images of all time.  By enhancing the EHT, the ngEHT project aims to again revolutionize our ability to study black holes.

“The ngEHT will realize a truly unique instrument, and we are proud that our team was selected by SAO. We are excited to contribute our extensive technical experience in telescope engineering to the ngEHT,” said Lutz Stenvers, Managing Director of mtex antenna technology.

The contract with mtex is planned in three phases. The first, which is now underway, is a conceptual design phase that will produce a mature, costed design concept for future antennas. Additional options include completing the final design and building a prototype in the second phase, and building and delivering up to five additional antennas to locations around the world in the third phase. The global distribution of these new antennas promises to enable even sharper views—and movies—of black holes.

The first image of a black hole, and subsequent EHT observations of SgrA*, the black hole at the center of the Milky Way Galaxy, gave scientists their first glimpses of the twisted spacetime that is characterized by the event horizon, the point where even light cannot escape the black hole’s gravitational pull. “Supermassive black holes convert the energy of infalling matter to radiant light, and power near light-speed jets of charged particles that can pierce entire galaxies. How this happens remains one of the greatest mysteries in astronomy. The ngEHT will help us see in near real-time how black holes operate and even provide new tests of Einstein’s gravity,” explained Shep Doeleman, leader of the ngEHT project.

The EHT uses a technique called Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI) to link together pairs of radio telescopes all over the world, effectively creating a single, “virtual” telescope that enables scientists to see objects that are smaller on the sky than any single telescope can view by itself. But since there are currently only 11 telescopes participating in the EHT, “that leaves a lot of gaps in our virtual telescope, where we rely on algorithms and simulations to fill in information about what the image is,” said Garret Fitzpatrick, ngEHT Project Engineer. “The contract with mtex is major piece that will help fill in these gaps in the EHT array, and, when combined with new instrumentation and new data transport and processing systems, will enable more observing time in more frequencies at once. This is crucial for movies.”

Lisa Kewley, Director of the Harvard & Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, which includes the SAO, sees the ngEHT as a flagship project for the center. “We look forward to working with mtex on this visionary project. We aim to realize true black hole ‘cinema’ before the end of this decade.”

 

This is the first image of a black hole event horizon. This black hole is located in Messier 87, or M87, which is about 60 million light years from Earth.

(© by SAO, Black Hole Primer (harvard.edu))

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