09/07/2013 10:53 BST

Black Hole Event Horizon Telescope Will Be 'Size Of The Earth'

Astronomers are developing a way to 'see' black holes using a telescope said to be roughly the size of the Earth.

Thankfully this won't involve building a giant sun-blocking mirror in orbit, but will instead link telescopes all over the world to a supercomputer to create a virtual image with the same resolution as an Earth-sized device.

Because all black holes are so far away it is incredibly difficult to observe them in any detail.

black hole

The EHT could open up a new realm of astrophysics

It is hoped the super-high resolution of the new Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) will allow the light emitted from gas sucked into the black hole to be seen.

This would be a huge boost for astrophysicists as they would be able to make observations on the murky world of black hole physics as well as testing Einstein's theory of general relativity.

Jason Dexter, an astrophysical theorist at the University of California, said: "This is really an unprecedented, unique experiment," reports

"It's going to give us more direct information than we've ever had to understand what happens extremely close to black holes.

"It's very exciting, and this project is really going to come of age and start delivering amazing results in the next few years."

When finished it would be capable of spotting a golf ball on the Moon.

Developing the EHT has thrown up some monumental technological challenges.

The EHT website says:

The EHT uses the technique of Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI) to synthesize an Earth-sized telescope in order to achieve the highest resolution possible using ground-based instrumentation. The target source is observed simultaneously at all telescopes. The data are recorded at each of the sites and later brought back to a processing facility where they are passed through a special purpose supercomputer known as a correlator. More information about radio astronomy and the technique of interferometry is available.

Because of the global distances involved scientists use atomic clocks to ensure communication is precise and all stations are watching the same thing at the same time.

There are currently eight telescopes and arrays on board with a further four in the pipeline.

One of these is the huge Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) whose 64 dishes will increase the magnification by up to 10 times.

The first target of the EHT is likely to be the super massive black hole at the centre of our own galaxy, Sagittarius A*. This is thought to be a black hole containing the mass of four million suns.