Black Hole and Maxim Pathfinder
Credit: N. White (HEASARC) and W. Cash (U. Colorado)

Witness to the End of Time

In the last year of the millenium, did you ever expect to witness the end of time? If NASA's plans succeed, this should be possible early in the next millenium, by obtaining a picture of the "event horizon" of a black hole. Black holes are unusual regions of space surrounding a "singularity", a point in space of infinite density. The event horizon is a theoretical surface which surrounds the singularity, dividing the "inside" of the black hole from the "outside": inside the event horizon, nothing can escape from the black hole or communicate information to the rest of the universe. Einstein's general theory of relativity predicts that, as the event horizon is approached, time slows down; at the event horizon, time comes to a standstill.

MAXIM, the Micro-Arcsecond X-ray Imaging Mission, is a proposed NASA space observatory designed to obtain super-high spatial resolution images. If successful, this observatory will allow us to view the region in space very near the event horizon, to, in effect, "take a picture" of a black hole. This mission will use a new technique called X-ray interferometry, in which images from a set of widely separated telescopes are combined to produce images of incredibly fine detail. A preliminary version of MAXIM, called the MAXIM Pathfinder, is shown above right. The image in the upper left is our best guess of what a black hole will look like to MAXIM. This simulated image shows a disk of material swirling into the event horizon; the flat disk is apparently bent by the strong gravity near the black hole. As the material falls onto the event horizon, it radiates strongly in X-rays. MAXIM is designed to image these X-rays and so allow us to study material down to the black hole's surface.

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Each week the HEASARC brings you new, exciting and beautiful images from X-ray and Gamma ray astronomy. Check back each week and be sure to check out the HEAPOW archive!

Page Author: Dr. Michael F. Corcoran
Last modified May 26, 2001