Ask Ethan: How Does Very-Long-Baseline Interferometry Allow Us To Image A Black Hole?
“[The Event Horizon Telescope] uses VLBI. So what is interferometry and how was it employed by [the Event Horizon Telescope]? Seems like it was a key ingredient in producing the image of M87 but I have no idea how or why. Care to elucidate?”
If it were easy to network radio telescopes together across the world, we’d have produced an image of a black hole’s event horizon long ago. Well, it’s not easy at all, but it is at least possible! The technique that enabled it is known as VLBI: very-long-baseline interferometry. But there are some critical steps that aren’t very obvious that need to happen in order for this method to succeed. Remarkably, we learned how to do it and have successfully employed it, and the Event Horizon Telescope marks the first time we’ve ever been able to get an image with a telescope that’s effectively the size of planet Earth!