A team of international astronomers has just released images of a supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way galaxy, named Sagittarius A*.
It is believed that almost all galaxies possess a black hole at their centers, which is a space in which light and matter cannot escape; obviously this would make taking a picture extremely difficult.
The Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) Collaboration created this new image, which is now the first of its kind that confirms the existence of a once unseen object like a black hole.
You can see that the image displays a bright gas that encircles the black hole, who’s size is four million times that of our sun.
“These unprecedented observations have greatly improved our understanding of what happens at the very centre of our galaxy,” said EHT project scientist Geoffrey Bower, of Taiwan’s Academia Sinica.
French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) released a statement by Bower in which he said that the discoveries have provided “new insights on how these massive black holes interact with their surroundings.”
The Astrophysical Journal Letters published the findings.
Feryal Ozel of the University of Arizona referred to the black hole as “the gentle giant in the center of our galaxy.”
The black hole received its name Sagittarius A* given its discovery in the direction of the constellation Sagittarius.
We learned of its existence in 1974, when an unusual radio emission near the center of the galaxy had been discovered. In fact, its presence was confirmed by astronomers back in the 1990s when they were studying the trajectories of the brightest stars near the center of the galaxy.
The black hole is about 27,000 light-years away from the Earth, giving it quite a small appearance in the sky.
The telescope responsible for the image is actually a culmination of eight gigantic radio observatories throughout the planet to capture photographs of such a faraway object.
The Institute for Millimetre Radio Astronomy (IRAM) in Spain, which has the most sensitive single antenna in the EHT network, was one of them.
In order to take the picture, the EHT stared at Sgr A* for several hours at a time across several nights.
This isn’t the first time the group has captured an image of a black hole, in fact, back in 2019 they were able to photograph another black hole, known as M87*, due to its location in the Messier 87 galaxy.
Despite the fact that Sgr A* is 2,000 times smaller than M87*, the two black holes have striking similarities.
“Close to the edge of these black holes, they look amazingly similar,” said Sera Markoff, co-chair of the EHT Science Council, and a professor at the University of Amsterdam.
Both’s behavior fell in line with Einstein’s general relativity theory, which assumes that gravity is caused by the curvature of space and time, and that cosmic objects alter this geometry.
Interestingly enough, despite being significantly closer to us, being able to capture an image of Sgr A* provided some distinct obstacles.
Even though gas around both black holes travels at the same speed, which is close to the speed of light, it actually took days and weeks to orbit the bigger M87*, meanwhile it only took minutes to orbit Sgr A*.
The researchers had to develop complex new tools to account for the moving targets.
The image we see before us is the result of numerous photographs being put together and created by over 300 researchers across 80 nations over the course of five years.
Scientists are now keen to compare the two black holes in order to test hypotheses about how gasses behave around them, a phenomenon that is expected to play a role in the development of new stars and galaxies.
Investigating black holes could aid physicists in developing a more advanced theory of gravity in the future.
Watch it here: Youtube/Al Jazeera English