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Black Holes Up Close

Astrophysicists at the 2012 April meeting of the American Physical Society have presented images of  black holes at unprecedented levels of detail.

The Milky Way black hole as seen by the LIPRA1 antenna array. 
Courtesy of Brian Jacobsmeyer III, LIPRA1 collaboration.

LIPRA1 (Large Intensifying Photon Resolving Array), a test bed for the forthcoming LIPRA2 array in the Atacama Desert of South America is already returning startling images of a number of black holes, including the Galactic Black Hole at the center of the Milky Way.

The ground breaking collection of images was presented for the first time at yesterday's black hole session at the April meeting of the American Physical Society in Atlanta, Georgia. "We were quite surprised," said Principal Investigator Brian Jacobsmeyer (University of Colorado at Boulder), "the real work wasn't scheduled to begin until the full antenna array is completed in the summer of 2014. We decided to test the system, and found that even at preliminary resolutions, the images are simply unbelievable."

In addition to the Galactic Black Hole, the collaboration has collected images of a handful of some of the largest and closest black holes to us including Cygnus X-1, the Andromeda Galaxy, Messier 32, and the so-called Sombrero Galaxy.

 Sombrero Galaxy black hole (aka M104) as seen through LIPRA1 The inset shows a close up of the 
central and darkest part of the black hole.Courtesy of Brian Jacobsmeyer III, LIPRA1 collaboration.

Once the full array comes on line, the collaboration hopes to turn their sights on increasingly distant and smaller objects. For now, says Jacobsmeyer, the collaboration has their hands full as they assemble a catalog of the nearest black holes.

There is some speculation that the unexpected plethora of objects they have been able to image thus far may delay completion of the full LIPRA system. "It's a rare and wonderful thing when a complex machine like our telescope works far better than expected," Jacobsmeyer said in his presentation at the APS meeting. "But even success can come with problems. We're currently applying to the NSF for emergency funds to support at least five more postdocs, which at current rates could be several hundred dollars over the next two years, just to deal with all the data. And ink. We need lots more black ink."

Controversial image of NGC 3114, initially identified as NCG 4258, in a LIPRA1 posting
to the online Archix. Courtesy of Brian Jacobsmeyer III, LIPRA1 collaboration.

Jacobsmeyer acknowledged that the LIPRA1 results have not been entirely free of controversy. At least one of the images the collaboration included in a paper posted to the online preprint ArXiv has since been removed from a version that is currently in review for publication in the Astrophysical Review journal. "Look, mistakes can happen," said Jacobsmeyer. "We inadvertently included duplicate images of NGC 3114, but labeled one NGC 4258. It's not clear how it happened, but you have to admit that their are some distinct similarities between the two."

In response to one heated exchange in the question and answer session that followed the formal presentation of the LIPRA1 data, Jacobsmeyer insisted, "No. Absolutely not. There is no way that we forgot to take off the lens cap. At least I'm pretty sure."

(Clara Moskowitz contributed to this story with reporting from the 2012 APS April meeting in Atlanta, Georgia)


  1. Good one... hilarious.

  2. Hi
    I really loved this post.Its very useful to everyone.

  3. "You've got to admit there are some distinct similarities between the two" HAHAHAHAHAH dying over here!

  4. i wanna see the "contents readout" of thesse blackholes that are still doing too much starlife for breakfast.... let me know!

  5. Looks just like the one I seen!


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