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Supermassive Black Hole Consumed 100 Million CPU Hours

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Yesterday’s image showcasing the supermassive black hole in the center of our galaxy, the Milky Way, owes its existence to human ingenuity – and to our old friend, the CPU. Achieved thanks to a five-year partnership and research between the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) array, the Frontera supercomputer at the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) and NSF’s Open Science Grid. The image of  Sagittarius A* (pronounced A-star) and its trapped light reignites the dreams and wonder of our universe. All of this is a cool 27,000 light-years from Earth, and shows an image of a black hole that’s so supermassive it’s estimated to be four million times more massive than the sun.

The galactic-level task took around 100 million CPU hours and the concerted efforts of 300-plus researchers to coalesce into the released image. But how does one “see” a black hole that’s so massive its gravitic forces trap even lightspeed-moving particles? Well, one can actually see the contours of the black hole by paying attention to the comparably minute amount of light that actually manages to escape its event horizon. To create it, the researchers made use of the interferometry, radio wave-based scanning power of the EHT array, which includes eight radio telescopes deployed around the globe. But scanning impossibly distant celestial bodies comes with a number of caveats, such as exposure time (in this case, the cosmic equivalent of photographing a tree with a 1 second shutter speed in a windy day) and other elements such as data noise, particle interference and celestial bodies. All of which has to be accounted for.



Yesterday’s image showcasing the supermassive black hole in the center of our galaxy, the Milky Way, owes its existence to human ingenuity – and to our old friend, the CPU. Achieved thanks to a five-year partnership and research between the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) array, the Frontera supercomputer at the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) and NSF’s Open Science Grid. The image of  Sagittarius A* (pronounced A-star) and its trapped light reignites the dreams and wonder of our universe. All of this is a cool 27,000 light-years from Earth, and shows an image of a black hole that’s so supermassive it’s estimated to be four million times more massive than the sun.

The galactic-level task took around 100 million CPU hours and the concerted efforts of 300-plus researchers to coalesce into the released image. But how does one “see” a black hole that’s so massive its gravitic forces trap even lightspeed-moving particles? Well, one can actually see the contours of the black hole by paying attention to the comparably minute amount of light that actually manages to escape its event horizon. To create it, the researchers made use of the interferometry, radio wave-based scanning power of the EHT array, which includes eight radio telescopes deployed around the globe. But scanning impossibly distant celestial bodies comes with a number of caveats, such as exposure time (in this case, the cosmic equivalent of photographing a tree with a 1 second shutter speed in a windy day) and other elements such as data noise, particle interference and celestial bodies. All of which has to be accounted for.

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