Rice astrophysicists available to discuss Event Horizon Telescope news

EXPERT ALERT

David Ruth
713-348-6327
david@rice.edu

Mike Williams
713-348-6728
mikewilliams@rice.edu

Rice astrophysicists available to discuss Event Horizon Telescope news

HOUSTON – (April 8, 2019) – Will we finally see pictures of a huge black hole in the middle of our galaxy?

As astronomers around the world await the news, two Rice University astrophysicists are available this week to discuss Wednesday’s “breakthrough” announcement by the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT).

Scientists associated with the project will release their first results in a multinational press conference April 10 at 9 a.m. Eastern time. There is speculation they will reveal the first images of the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way.

Neither Rice scientist is part of the discovery team, but can discuss the facts and theories behind black holes and other cosmological events and the radio telescope technology used to make the new find.

Mustafa Amin, an assistant professor of physics and astronomy, is a theoretical cosmologist and astrophysicist who studies the universe from the earliest times to its contemporary state, with a particular interest in gravitational physics.

“What’s fantastic about this, if the rumors are true, is that this will be the first visual confirmation of the innermost region of spacetime surrounding a black hole, where the effects of Einstein’s theory of gravity are the most prominent,” Mustafa said. “That’s where we can really test our ideas about what goes on.

“This is different from saying that because we have light coming out of the outer regions, or we can detect the motion of stars and matter away from the innermost regions, we can confirm the existence of a black hole at the center,” he said. “This could be an image of matter swirling in the innermost region, close to the central region from which light cannot escape.

“It should give us a sense of a region we cannot probe with other existing techniques, and will let us test whether Einstein’s theory of relativity works in this extreme environment. Is it consistent with what we expect or not? That, to me, is exciting.”

“General relativity has passed so many tests that it would be extremely astonishing to find a counterexample,” said Andrea Isella, also an assistant professor of physics and astronomy. “People have been looking for counterexamples in all possible ways, and it has never failed. If they see what they expect, fine, but if they see something different, it will be exciting.”

Isella studies the formation of planets from protoplanetary discs often seen around young stars, and has published several discoveries based on his observations through the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in the high desert of Chile.

ALMA is the world’s largest radio telescope and an essential part of EHT. All of the instruments in EHT operate on the principle of very-long-baseline interferometry.

“This technique allows a signal captured by radio telescopes thousands of miles from each other to be combined to achieve an angular resolution (the ability to distinguish small details of an object) capable of imaging a quarter on the surface of the moon,” Isella said. “The Event Horizon Telescope is essentially a planet-sized radio telescope.”

He said the exquisite sensitivity of ALMA, combined with that of the other seven radio telescopes including the U.S.-based James Clerk Maxwell Telescope, the Submillimeter Array and the Arizona Radio Observatory, should allow the collective to image the accretion disk surrounding the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way located at the position of Sagittarius A*.

Wednesday’s press conferences will be held simultaneously in five cities in five languages. Live streams in English will be available for the Brussels and Washington events.

To request an interview with Amin or Isella, contact Mike Williams at 713-348-6728 or at mikewilliams@rice.edu.

-30-

This news release can be found online at news.rice.edu.

Follow Rice News and Media Relations via Twitter @RiceUNews.

Images for download:

Andrea Isella

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

https://news-network.rice.edu/news/files/2019/04/0408_EHT-1-web-1ibsfqi.jpg

CAPTION: Andrea Isella. (Credit: Jeff Fitlow/Rice University)

Mustafa Amin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

https://news-network.rice.edu/news/files/2019/04/0408_EHT-2-web-1fz375b.jpg

CAPTION: Mustafa Amin. (Credit: Rice University)

Located on a 300-acre forested campus in Houston, Rice University is consistently ranked among the nation’s top 20 universities by U.S. News & World Report. Rice has highly respected schools of Architecture, Business, Continuing Studies, Engineering, Humanities, Music, Natural Sciences and Social Sciences and is home to the Baker Institute for Public Policy. With 3,962 undergraduates and 3,027 graduate students, Rice’s undergraduate student-to-faculty ratio is just under 6-to-1. Its residential college system builds close-knit communities and lifelong friendships, just one reason why Rice is ranked No. 1 for lots of race/class interaction and No. 2 for quality of life by the Princeton Review. Rice is also rated as a best value among private universities by Kiplinger’s Personal Finance.

About Mike Williams

Mike Williams is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.