Helium-filled HDDs to help scientists capture the first ever image of a black hole

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Scientists from the Event Horizon Telescope project will be using HGST’s HelioSeal hard disk drives to store imaging data from a supermassive black hole.

A world first, the project will create an Earth-sized telescope array and use big data techniques to create a composite picture of the Sagittarius A* supermassive black hole.

The project will collect an enormous amount of data, around 10 times more information than the CERN team is collecting from the Large Hadron Collider.

HGST will be providing its revolutionary hermetically sealed HDDs – which the firm says is the first and only helium-filled HDDs in the world. Uniquely suited to the task, the HDDs will offer enormous levels of capacity and the ability to withstand harsh ambient environments.

“HGST’s contribution to the Event Horizon Telescope project has helped EHT accurately capture and store the massive amounts of data coming in from all the telescopes located around the globe,” said Shep Doeleman, professor at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics/Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who directs the Event Horizon Telescope project.

“Using sealed helium drives was the only way to ensure that data could be captured in remote locations, such as our high-altitude observatory in Mexico, where all other storage devices physically failed. Additionally, the high capacity of each drive ensured that we were able to build denser and fewer enclosures overall.”

Weighing in at four million times the mass of the sun, the Sagittarius A* black hole lies at the center of the Milky Way galaxy, where gas and dust obscure the view in optical light. Radio waves, however, can freely stream from deep within the gravity well of Sagittarius A* and travel 25,000 light years to earth.

There, the largest and most sensitive radio dishes on the planet capture signals from the event horizon of Sagittarius A* using custom built high-speed data recorders. This technique, known as Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI), cross-references recordings made across the Americas, Antarctica, Hawaii and Europe, and will soon be capable of rendering a visual representation of a black hole.

Image source: Shutterstock

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