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A Method to Image Black Holes

MIT News (06/06/16) Larry Hardesty

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University have developed Continuous High-resolution Image Reconstruction using Patch priors (CHIRP), an algorithm that could help astronomers produce the first image of a black hole. The algorithm would stitch together data collected from radio telescopes as part of the Event Horizon Telescope project, which aims to turn the entire planet into a large radio telescope dish. The telescope uses a technique called interferometry, which combines the signals detected by pairs of telescopes, so the signals interfere with each other. The MIT and Harvard researchers found that if the measurements from three telescopes are multiplied, the extra delays caused by atmospheric noise cancel each other out. Although this means each new measurement requires data from three telescopes instead of two, the increase in precision makes up for the loss of information. CHIRP is able to produce a more reliable image by using a model that is slightly more complex than individual points but is still mathematically tractable. CHIRP also uses a machine-learning algorithm to identify visual patterns that tend to recur in 64-pixel patches of real-world images. The researchers note those features were used to further refine the algorithm's image reconstructions.

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