INPhINIT Incoming PhD: "Imaging supermassive black holes with the Event Horizon Telescope"

  Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas   Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía   Excelencia Severo Ochoa   HR Excellence in Research
February, 4th 2021
(3) Galaxy Evolution and Cosmology

Our research group at IAA is focused on the study of black hole accretion and relativistic jet formation through very long baseline interferometric observations (VLBI) with mm-wave arrays, such as the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT), and orbiting antennas, such as the space VLBI mission RadioAstron. In particular our research group is playing a key role in the scientific exploitation of the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT).
Dr. Gómez, the group leader, is one of the three coordinators of the EHT Imaging Working Group (WG), together with Kazu Akiyama (MIT) and Katherine Bouman (CalTech). The EHT Imaging WG comprises more than 100 researchers worldwide and is responsible for producing all the images obtained by the EHT. Gómez is also the PI of the RadioAstron Key Science Program to study jet formation in AGN jets. Dr. Zhao is one of the two leaders of the SMILI Imaging Team (one of the four Teams within the Imaging WG responsible to produce the EHT images), and one of the two coordinators for the Scattering WG. Dr. Lico is the Secretary of the EHT Management Team, and participates actively in multiple WGs, as well as PhD student Mr. Fuentes. Two more postdocs will join the group in 2021. Our research group has already become one of the most relevant in the EHT, and is playing a key role in the analysis of the EHT observations of SgrA*, the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way, for which there are big expectations from the entire scientific community.
The PhD student will greatly benefit from access to the only astronomical infrastructure capable of actually imaging the accretion onto SMBHs, and the training potential of a group with four postdocs, plus participation in an international collaboration, the Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration, with more than 300 members that comprises most of the worldwide expertise in black hole physics, accretion onto black holes, jet formation, and VLBI imaging in its most challenging configurations.


Black holes are perhaps the most fundamental and striking prediction of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity (GR), and are at the heart of fundamental questions attempting to unify GR and quantum mechanics. On April 10th 2019 the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) Collaboration revealed the first image of a black hole. The image (above) shows an asymmetric bright emission ring, which encompasses a central depression in brightness, known as the “shadow” of the black hole, produced by the photon capture within the event horizon of the black hole. Overall, the size, circularity, asymmetry, and brightness contrast of the observed image are consistent with the shadow of a Kerr black hole as predicted by GR and provide one the strongest evidence to date of the existence of supermassive black holes (SMBH) in the nuclei of galaxies. With this image the EHT has opened a completely new window to study gravity, bringing into focus not only the persistent strong-field gravity features predicted by general relativity, but also the fine details of black hole accretion and relativistic jet launching.
The PhD student will focus her/his research on the study of accretion onto SMBHs and relativistic jet formation. The PhD student will have access to the only existing facility that can actually spatially resolve the accretion onto the supermassive black holes in M87 and SgrA*. With a mass three orders of magnitude smaller than that of M87 and dynamical timescales of minutes instead of days, SgrA* offers the opportunity to make the first real-time movies of black hole accretion. Similarly, studying the magnetic field in the vicinity of a black hole and how it affects accretion and jet launching is now possible with the EHT. These observations will be complemented with our own EHT, PI-led observations taken in 2017 and 2018, as well as 3 mm GMVA+ALMA and space VLBI RadioAstron observations led by our group to provide a comprehensive view of black hole accretion and jet formation.

Period (months): 
36 months

IAA is an equal opportunity institution. Applications to this program by female scientists are particularly encouraged.

Should you need any further information or assistance concerning the application, please contact the IAA at severoochoa[at]