Event horizon

Half a millennium ago, Leonardo Da Vinci had a crazy and inspired idea. Suppose two people on two different mountaintops measured the direction of the Sun at the same exact moment.

The data from those two measurements could then be combined to compute the distance of the Sun to the Earth. Nearly two centuries later, Giovanni Cassini carried out that very measurement.

Now a far more sophisticated descendent of that approach to astronomy has been completed. This one involved eight radio telescopes scattered across the globe, the use of atomic clocks to precisely synchronize the measurements, and massive amounts of computer time to interpret the data.

In a way, the wondrous image of the Messier 87 black hole that has been seen around the world this week is a tribute to a data-driven approach to astronomy that was begun around 500 years ago. I think Leonardo would have been proud.

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