A long standing goal in astrophysics is to directly observe the immediate environment of a black hole with angular resolution comparable to the event horizon. Realizing this goal would open a new window on the study of General Relativity in the strong field regime, accretion and outflow processes at the edge of a black hole, the existence of an event horizon, and fundamental black hole physics (e.g., spin). Steady long-term progress on improving the capability of Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI) at short wavelengths has now made it extremely likely that this goal will be achieved within the next decade. The most compelling evidence for this is the recent observation by 1.3mm VLBI of Schwarzschild radius scale structure in SgrA*, the compact source of radio, submm, NIR and xrays at the center of the Milky Way. SgrA* is thought to mark the position of a ~4 million solar mass black hole, and because of its proximity and estimated mass presents the largest apparent event horizon size of any black hole candidate in the Universe. Over the next decade, existing and planned mm/submm facilities will be combined into a high sensitivity, high angular resolution "Event Horizon Telescope" that will bring us as close to the edge of black hole as we will come for decades. This white paper describes the science case for mm/submm VLBI observations of both SgrA* and M87 (a radio loud AGN of a much more luminous class that SgrA*). We emphasize that while there is development and procurement involved, the technical path forward is clear, and the recent successful observations have removed much of the risk that would normally be associated with such an ambitious project.
astro2010: The Astronomy and Astrophysics Decadal Survey
- Pub Date:
- Astrophysics - Cosmology and Extragalactic Astrophysics;
- Astrophysics - Galaxy Astrophysics
- 8 pages, Science White Paper submitted to the ASTRO2010 Decadal Review Panels