SA astrophysicist part of remarkable black hole team

2019-04-10 19:11
Professor Roger Deane is an Astrophysicist from the Department of Physics at the University of Pretoria. He is pictured here with a theorised simulation of a black hole shadow image. (Background photo credit: T. Bronzwaer, J. Davelaar, M. Moscibrodzka, H. Falcke/BlackHoleCam).

Professor Roger Deane is an Astrophysicist from the Department of Physics at the University of Pretoria. He is pictured here with a theorised simulation of a black hole shadow image. (Background photo credit: T. Bronzwaer, J. Davelaar, M. Moscibrodzka, H. Falcke/BlackHoleCam).

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University of Pretoria astrophysicist, Professor Roger Deane, was part of an international group of scientists who made history by unveiling the first ever image of a black hole. 

Deane and his team from the university had the task of developing simulations from the "Earth-sized" telescope used to make the historic discovery.

These simulations mimic the data coming from the real instrument, which is made up of a number antennae across the globe, mimicking the imagery to help scientists get a better picture of what they are looking at. 

According to the university, Deane started working with the team on the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT), which captured the image revealed to the world on Wednesday. 

SEE: The first-ever image of a black hole and its fiery halo

Deane was in Brussels for the announcement. In a Skype interview, he told journalists that simulating the entire instrument produced an image of what the black hole should look like. 

He added that the simulations would take other aspects into consideration, such as the thermal dynamics around the black hole, the physics of every antenna used to capture the actual image and even empirical data on how the telescopes wobble. 

They would then note how that changed the perfect view of the black hole shadow as if the image was taken from a close-up position.

"As with any major physics experiment, one needs to understand the effects that the instrument itself may have on the data.

"In the case of the EHT, we built a simulation package that physically modelled a number of non-desirable effects that prevent one from seeing any sort of black hole shadow feature," Deane said.

"This accurate simulation of the telescope enables astronomers to better understand the real observations, discriminate between theoretical black hole shadow models, and insights into the characteristics and performance of the telescope itself."

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Deane explained that the image was only the beginning of their investigation, but that he was still blown away by the actualisation of the image, which is a start to confirming Albert Einstein's theory of relativity. 

"I'm just proud and honoured to play my small part in this amazing international team."

Deane's group will now focus on expanding their simulations to model a case in which light from the black hole may have preferred orientation, performing detailed simulations on new prospective sites, and exploring a range of probabilistic modelling techniques to extract the properties of the black hole shadow.

The vice-chancellor and principal of the university, Professor Tawana Kupe, congratulated Deane on his contribution.

"This young scientist is an inspiration to scientists on the African continent. Our staff and students are innovative and creative thinkers who excel in cutting-edge research and this discovery is a great example of what can be achieved if we work together across borders and disciplines."

The image reveals a black hole at the centre of Messier 87, a massive galaxy in the nearby Virgo galaxy cluster. This black hole resides 55 million light-years from Earth and has a mass 6.5bn times that of the sun.

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