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Imaging the Event Horizon of Black Holes

Objective

Gravity is successfully described by Einstein’s theory of general relativity (GR), governing the structure of our entire universe. Yet it remains the least understood of all forces in nature, resisting unification with quantum physics. One of the most fundamental predictions of GR are black holes (BHs). Their defining feature is the event horizon, the surface that light cannot escape and where time and space exchange their nature. However, while there are many convincing BH candidates in the universe, there is no experimental proof for the existence of an event horizon yet. So, does GR really hold in its most extreme limit? Do BHs exist or are alternatives needed? Here we propose to build a Black Hole Camera that for the first time will take an actual picture of a BH and image the shadow of its event horizon. We will do this by providing the equipment and software needed to turn a network of existing mm-wave radio telescopes into a global interferometer. This virtual telescope, when supplemented with the new Atacama Large Millimetre Array (ALMA), has the power to finally resolve the supermassive BH in the centre of our Milky Way – the best-measured BH candidate we know of. In order to compare the image with the theoretical predictions we will need to perform numerical modelling and ray tracing in GR and alternative theories. In addition, we will need to determine accurately the two basic parameters of the BH: its mass and spin. This will become possible by precisely measuring orbits of stars with optical interferometry on ESO’s VLTI. Moreover, our equipment at ALMA will allow for the first detection of pulsars around the BH. Already a single pulsar will independently determine the BH’s mass to one part in a million and its spin to a few per cent. This unique combination will not only produce the first-ever image of a BH, but also turn our Galactic Centre into a fundamental-physics laboratory to measure the fabric of space and time with unprecedented precision.

Field of science

  • /natural sciences/computer and information sciences/software
  • /natural sciences/physical sciences/astronomy/observational astronomy/radio astronomy
  • /natural sciences/physical sciences/quantum physics
  • /natural sciences/physical sciences/astronomy/galactic astronomy
  • /natural sciences/physical sciences/astronomy/observational astronomy/infrared astronomy
  • /natural sciences/physical sciences/astronomy/astrophysics/black hole

Call for proposal

ERC-2013-SyG
See other projects for this call

Funding Scheme

ERC-SyG - Synergy grant
Leaflet | Map data © OpenStreetMap contributors, Credit: EC-GISCO, © EuroGeographics for the administrative boundaries

Lead Principal Investigator

Heino Falcke (Prof.)

Host institution

STICHTING KATHOLIEKE UNIVERSITEIT
Address
Geert Grooteplein Noord 9
6525 EZ Nijmegen
Netherlands
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
EU contribution
€ 5 837 754
Principal investigator
Michael Kramer (Prof.)
Administrative Contact
Audri Lamers (Ms.)

Beneficiaries (6)

JOINT INSTITUTE FOR V.L.B.I. IN EUROPE (J.I.V.E.)

Participation ended

Netherlands
EU contribution
€ 366 400
Address
Oude Hoogeveensedijk 4
7991 PD Dwingeloo
Activity type
Research Organisations
Administrative Contact
Aukelien Van Den Poll (Mrs.)
STICHTING KATHOLIEKE UNIVERSITEIT
Netherlands
EU contribution
€ 5 837 754
Address
Geert Grooteplein Noord 9
6525 EZ Nijmegen
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Principal investigator
Michael Kramer (Prof.)
Administrative Contact
Audri Lamers (Ms.)
JOINT INSTITUTE FOR VERY LONG BASELINE INTERFEROMETRY AS A EUROPEAN RESEARCH INFRASTRUCTURE CONSORTIUM (JIV-ERIC)
Netherlands
Address
Oude Hoogeveensedijk 4
7991 PD Dwingeloo
Activity type
Research Organisations
Administrative Contact
Aukelien Van Den Poll (Mrs.)
Klinik Max Planck Institut für Psychiatrie
Germany
EU contribution
€ 4 787 674,40
Address
Hofgartenstrasse 8
80539 Muenchen
Activity type
Private for-profit entities (excluding Higher or Secondary Education Establishments)
Administrative Contact
Karl-Heinz Böckelmann (Mr.)
EUROPEAN SOUTHERN OBSERVATORY - ESO EUROPEAN ORGANISATION FOR ASTRONOMICAL RESEARCH IN THE SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE
Germany
EU contribution
€ 176 000,40
Address
Karl-schwarzschild-strasse 2
85748 Garching
Activity type
Research Organisations
Administrative Contact
Eniko Patkos (Dr.)
JOHANN WOLFGANG GOETHE-UNIVERSITATFRANKFURT AM MAIN
Germany
EU contribution
€ 2 807 915,20
Address
Theodor W Adorno Platz 1
60323 Frankfurt Am Main
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Administrative Contact
Kristina Wege (Ms.)