UTSA - The University of Texas at San Antonio

05/12/2022 | News release | Distributed by Public on 05/13/2022 05:18

Groundbreaking image of black hole enhanced by UTSA physics professor Richard Anantua’s research

"This first image of light lensed immediately around the horizon of our own galaxy's supermassive black hole-and second black hole shadow image ever-is a landmark achievement in the history of astronomy," Anantua said. "We can now directly probe strong gravity, and the spacetime effects of black hole mass, spin and charge, imposing some of the latest and most stringent tests of Einstein's theory of general relativity."

The pioneering image was released today by astronomers in seven simultaneous worldwide press conferences.

"The Event Horizon Telescope has continued to push the frontiers of science and discovery," said Dr. Karen Marrongelle, the National Science Foundation's chief operating officer, today at a live broadcast announcing the new image. "This discovery was made possible by more than 300 researchers from 80 institutions working with eight different telescopes around the globe. Their achievement is a truly inspiring scientific endeavor and a powerful reminder of what we can achieve through international collaboration and coordination."

To develop the image, teams of researchers tapped 3.5 petabytes of data from the eight telescopes, the same amount as about 100 million TikTok videos, and stored it on hard drives before combining, calibrating and converting into an image.

Afterward, the researchers shipped back hundreds of hard drives to Massachusetts and Germany, where supercomputers combined the signals, produced raw input data and calibrated it by combining it with data about the sensitivity of each telescope.

The imaging teams then processed the information to reconstruct the best possible images of the hot plasma surrounding the black hole. Researchers including Anantua also ran simulations predicting how material behaves around black holes the size of Sagittarius A*.

Anantua broadly specializes in theoretical cosmology, high-energy theoretical astrophysics, high-energy theoretical particle physics such as string theory and condensed matter theory. He develops plasma heating models to help researchers better understand the polarized emission around black holes. He modeled and simulated the plasma physics underlying the Sagittarius A* image.

"International partnerships, particularly ones as large and complex as the EHT Collaboration, fuels discovery and leads to breakthroughs in science," said Bernard Arulanandam, vice president for research, economic development, and knowledge enterprise. "Dr. Anantua's scholarly contributions in space demonstrates how UTSA faculty are tackling grand challenges that have significance for all of humankind."

Anantua earned his Ph.D. and M.S. in physics from Stanford University, his Ed.M. in education and policy management from Harvard University and two bachelor's degrees from Yale University: one in physics and philosophy and the other in economics and mathematics.

In addition to his groundbreaking research contributions in physics, Anantua is committed to promoting physics as a career field to students of color. As the lead the EHT Outreach group, he coordinates with international press officers to publicize EHT science and connect the EHT Collaboration with diverse organizations including the National Society of Black Physicists. He is also developing the first EHT group based in Texas with Brandon Curd, a researcher who will begin a postdoctoral fellowship at UTSA this fall.

"Dr. Anantua is an exceptional faculty member who is not only making impactful research contributions but is also promoting science advocacy and outreach," said UTSA College of Sciences Dean David Silva, adding that, "by serving a leadership role in the EHT Collaboration, Richard is utilizing his talents and strengths in innovative ways to build connections and pioneer new discoveries in the field of astrophysics."