Environment & Science

UCSB researchers pioneer method of 'de-blurring' deep space images

This composite of Sagittarius A-Star combines radio images from the NRAO Very Large Array (green), BIMA (red) and the NASA Spitzer Space Telescope (blue).
This composite of Sagittarius A-Star combines radio images from the NRAO Very Large Array (green), BIMA (red) and the NASA Spitzer Space Telescope (blue).
Image courtesy of NRAO/AUI

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A new method of "de-blurring" deep space images developed by UC Santa Barbara researchers may pave the way for clearer pictures of things like black holes.

Telescopes can’t see black holes in the traditional sense.

But scientists can measure the radio waves these massive objects emit, thereby getting a sense of the size and scope of them.

However, plasma floating in deep space distorts our ability to accurately measure these radio waves, said Carl Gwinn with UCSB.

It's similar to how particles in our atmosphere distort our vision of the stars above, he said.

Gwinn and his team examined this phenomenon and discovered that the blurring caused by these clouds of interstellar plasma occurred in a predictable pattern.

By creating calculations that corrected for the blurring, they were able to create slightly clearer space vision, at least for radio waves.

“We’ve managed to partially de-blur them," Gwinn explained.

He likened it to using corrective lenses to improve a person's vision.

"So, we’ve put a contact lens on but the contact lens is not yet a prescription contact lens," he said. "We have to do some more work to find the exact prescription.”

Still, it's a significant start.

Using this technique, Gwinn and his team were able to verify the size of Sagittarius A*, the black hole at the center of our own Milky Way galaxy. He thinks that with improvements, researchers may be able to learn whether matter falls into a black hole or is ejected from one.

Gwinn added this deblurring technique might be helpful for other fields where the scattering of waves is an issue, such as medical imaging and cell phone communications.

"Perhaps by contributing a tiny bit to pure knowledge in that area we can benefit these other fields," he said.