How Texans helped produce first image of Milky Way’s black hole

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — This week, Texans at different universities helped people across the world get a glimpse of the supermassive black hole at the center of our Milky Way galaxy.

The fuzzy image of Sagittarius A* was released Thursday from the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT), a collection of eight synchronized radio telescopes from around the world.

The research of the black hole was supported by the Frontera supercomputer at the University of Texas at Austin, called “the most powerful supercomputer in academia” by the school.

UT explained scientists with EHT were able to use nearly 80 million CPU hours on Frontera since 2021, working to create the largest simulation library of black holes.

The scientists compared the models with observations, and they were able to test the physics of black holes more thoroughly than with either method alone, UT Austin said.

After simulating the black hole at the center of the Milky Way, researchers then used Frontera, the Open Science Grid and CyVerse to render “physically accurate images” and predict how Sagittarius A* might look from Earth.

Alexandra Tetarenko is Texas Tech University’s NASA Einstein Fellow. She helped produce the first image of Sagittarius A* alongside other astronomers. (Texas Tech Photo)

The project has launched further studies to learn how the black hole changes over time and how it spins, UT said.

Texas Tech fellow helps with EHT research

Alexandra Tetarenko is Texas Tech University’s NASA Einstein Fellow. She helped produce the first image of Sagittarius A* alongside other astronomers.

In the past, she’s worked at one of the EHT telescopes, the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope, located in Hawaii, Texas Tech said.

“My time in Hawaii afforded me the amazing opportunity to get involved in the EHT,” Tetarenko said in a press release. “From taking the observations to analyzing the data with many brilliant colleagues, it’s incredibly exciting to see how far we can push our instruments and how much we can discover about some of the most fascinating objects in our universe: black holes!”

Tetarenko helped out with EHT’s observations remotely by connecting to the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope from Lubbock. She specializes in “studying rapidly varying emissions from black holes,” Texas Tech explained. Her work helped solve the issue of creating an image of a rapidly changing subject.

“The light we capture from material swirling around the black hole was changing in brightness on minute timescales, therefore it was critical that we characterize this variability before we could properly calibrate the data and create an image,” she explained.

In the future, she hopes to be able to use the EHT to observe smaller black holes within the Milky Way.

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