Astronomers have located four super-massive black holes swirling in the centers of galaxies that may hopefully provide them with a better understanding of the interstellar objects.

Robert Antonucci, a professor of physics at UCSB, along with a collaboration of other scientists, used the telescopes at the Keck Observatory in Hawaii to observe the black holes. According to Antonucci, these observations are important to scientists because they help researchers understand the process of galactic formation.

The Keck telescopes use the process of interferometry to observe the black holes. The two mirrors of the Keck observatory gather photons simultaneously in order to provide the same picture of a mirror that is 85 meters in diameter, allowing researchers to look at objects as far as 9.7 billion light years away, according to Debbie Goodwin, director of advancement at the Keck Observatory.

“The use of interferometry in the Keck Observatory has been active since 1996, and when using such processes, both mirrors are linked up in a way that their photons will give a picture of a mirror that is 85 meters in diameter,” Goodwin said. “There are also smaller mirrors along the empty space between the two mirrors in a basement complex. This allows deep looks into space as earlier in the year the telescopes were used to map stellar velocities at a distance of 9.7 billion light years away.”

Although the two telescopes at the Keck Observatory, which are the largest optical/infrared telescopes in the world, are useful to researchers trying to get a look at these black holes, the pictures they produce are not nearly as sharp as scientists would like them to be, according to Antonucci.

“Optical astronomy is 60 years behind radio astronomy,” Antonucci said. “Since the birth of radio astronomy was during the post-World War II [era] when there were radio signals found in space … radio telescopes were made to investigate these sources. However, even pictures that are received using modern telescopes are still very crude and non-definitive.”

It will still take at least another decade or two until researchers expect to have a clear picture of the super-massive black holes, since by then there should be much more powerful networks of radio telescopes capable of such a task. However, until then, telescopes such as those at the Keck Observatory will be useful for observing the phenomena.

According to Goodwin, the Keck Observatory is planning to connect the telescopes to a larger network of optical infrared telescopes in order to allow researchers to have the equivalent resolution of mirrors over 100 meters in diameter. This is expected to be a seven to 10-year project, Goodwin said.