One giant leap for teamwork

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University professor reveals the techniques involved in taking the historic first-ever picture of a black hole

Budding astronomers from across Lancashire converged on the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) recently for a photography lesson with a difference.

The University’s Professor Derek-Ward Thomson enthralled the audience as he delivered the annual Jeremiah Horrocks Lecture, which this year was entitled: How to take a picture of a black hole.

The UCLan astronomer was recently part of a multi-national collaboration to produce the first photograph of the much-talked-about cosmic object.

As the audience soon learned, there was a little more involved in capturing such a ground-breaking image than just ‘point and shoot’.

The Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) was forged by connecting together eight different telescopes across the earth to make the equivalent of one single earth-sized telescope.

The telescope is so powerful that it can view objects only a few centimetres across on the surface of the Moon.

Our Preston audience was interested to know about our future plans to take new images of another black hole which is located in our Galaxy.

Professor Ward-Thompson said: “It was fantastic to play a role in this truly historical achievement. The black hole we imaged is 55 million light years away and the size of our entire solar system.

“Until now, this was the domain of science fiction and artist impressions but our achievement certainly seemed to capture the public’s attention through widespread international media coverage.”

One of the eight telescopes used to capture the image is the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in Hawaii, which is part-owned by the UCLan, and Professor Ward-Thompson worked with the imaging team to produce the stunning picture.

The UCLan academic added: “Our Preston audience was interested to know about our future plans to take new images of another black hole which is located in our Galaxy.

“As we refine our photographic techniques, the resulting images will reveal even more about these extraordinary cosmic objects. We will, of course, be delighted to share our findings with the Lancashire public in future public lectures.”

View images from this event on the UCLan Flickr gallery.

Chris Theobald | 10 May 2019