THEIR VIEW: Unity leads to success

Published on Tuesday, 16 April 2019 20:28
Written by Japan News -- Yomiuri

This can be considered to be a research result that has gotten us closer to elucidating the formation of the universe and is worthy of a Nobel Prize.

An international team that includes researchers from Japan, the United States and European countries, succeeded in capturing for the first time an image of a black hole. Although the existence of the mysterious celestial bodies has been advocated for more than 100 years, it had not been possible to see an image of a black hole until now.

Black holes have such intense gravitational forces that not even light can escape. They exist in various parts of the universe, including at the center of the Milky Way. Giant black holes have a mass 10 billion times that of the Sun.

Previously, the existence of black holes had been indirectly estimated through observation of orbiting stars and other matter. This time, an image of the black hole was created by capturing radio waves emitted by the gases drawn into it.

That the existence of a black hole in its visible form has been confirmed is significant. As relevant research advances, it may even become possible to elucidate the origins of our galaxy.

The latest success is due to international collaboration.

The team, centering around scientists from the United States, used eight ground-based radio telescopes, whose locations include Hawaii and Chile. They targeted a black hole in a galaxy called Messier 87, about 55 million light-years from Earth.

By combining data collected from a network of telescopes to attain the performance of an Earth-sized virtual telescope, the team achieved a visual power equivalent to the capability of identifying a golf ball on the surface of the moon from Earth. A large amount of data was analyzed in detail using supercomputers in the United States and Germany.

More than 200 scientists from about 80 research institutes around the world were involved, including Asian researchers in South Korea and Malaysia.

It is difficult for any country to single-handedly conduct research in advanced science, both in terms of manpower and equipment. It is important for countries to cooperate, as they did this time, to help bring about results.

Japan, for its part, has also made a significant contribution.

Japanese equipment and technology are used at the ALMA telescope in Chile. This telescope, which has the highest sensitivity among the eight telescopes, helped to improve accuracy. Researchers at the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan have also developed outstanding data analysis software.

In Japan, Minoru Oda observed in 1971 X-rays emitted by a celestial body that was considered to be a possible black hole candidate. Thanks to his discovery, the search for black hole candidates has become active around the world.

It is essential to improve the environment so that Japanese researchers can continue to play an active role.

Posted in The Bristol Press, Editorials on Tuesday, 16 April 2019 20:28. Updated: Tuesday, 16 April 2019 20:30.