The Universe Tonight

Aug 6, 2011 6:00pm
James Clark Maxwell Telescope

Dr. Remo Tilanus


Staring Down the Hungry Throat of a

Monster Black Hole.



Modern observations show that the centre of our Milky Way Galaxy harbors a massive, compact object. It has the same mass as 4 million stars like our Sun, but a size much smaller than our solar system. Although hidden behind dust clouds, recent infra-red observation have revealed that close-by stars orbit it like the planets around the Sun. But rather than the 'leisurely' 65,000 miles per hour of our Earth, these stars move at a measurable fraction of the speed of light on closest approach. Nevertheless, the central object itself has remained invisible apart from an occasional flare showing material falling into it. The generally accepted explanation for the central object is for it to be a super-massive black hole.

Now an effort is underway by sub-mm observatories around the world to join into a virtual globe-spanning 'Event Horizon Telescope' (EHT). Combining observations from sub-mm telescopes thousands of miles apart it will have the capability to directly image the black hole and its vicinity. In his talk, Dr. Tilanus will discuss black holes and some of their startling properties that may be seen. He will present recent observations with a pioneering version of the EHT have penetrated the 'fog' around the black hole. These observations have already shown evidence for the presence of material directly around it. They have also set the tightest constraints to date on the size and mass of mysterious object lurking in the center of out Milky Way.

In about 5 years the EHT may deliver the first image of the immediate surroundings of a black hole and the shadow thrown by its event horizon. Well before then it may show material spinning towards oblivion as it is swallowed by the black hole.


Speaker Bio:

Remo Tilanus (Ph.D.)is Head of Operations of the James Clerk Maxwell telescope, the largest telescope dedicated to sub-mm astronomy. His research encompasses spiral structure and star formation in nearby galaxies, gamma-ray bursts, and high-resolution observations of black holes. He received his Ph.D. from the University in Groningen (The Netherlands) and held positions and the Univ. of Illinois, the Institute for Astronomy Manoa, and Caltech, before joining the Joint Astronomy Centre. He and his family have lived in Hilo these past eighteen years.


On the first Saturday of each month, the Visitor Information Station (VIS) hosts The Universe Tonight, a special presentation on the current research and discoveries occurring on Mauna Kea. The presentation begins at 6:00 PM and is followed by the regular evening stargazing program at the VIS.

The Universe Tonight typically features an astronomer from one of the observatories on Mauna Kea giving a presentation on recent observations and discoveries from their telescope. Observatories are on a rotating schedule. If you would like to know about upcoming presentations, please call the VIS at (808) 961-2180 during operational hours.

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