Behold! First Image of Milky Way’s Supermassive Black Hole
Astronomers have finally seen the Milky Way galaxy’s center, revealing a massive black hole, a celestial vortex 26,000 light-years from Earth that would otherwise be hidden from view.
On Thursday, an international team of researchers released a photo of the supermassive black hole known as Sagittarius A*, which was captured using the power of eight linked radio dishes from around the world that can penetrate through gas clouds in outer space. Though black holes are by definition invisible — light cannot escape their grasp — Sagittarius A* appeared as a black shadow surrounded by the bright glow of the gas and debris swirling around its perimeter.
The image in deep space resembling a solar eclipse
The image depicted a region in deep space resembling a solar eclipse — a darkened circle encircled by a radiant red-orange fuzz of light. The image was colorized so that it could be seen by human eyes.
Until three years ago, any depiction of a black hole was merely an artist’s interpretation or a computer model of the spinning, spacetime-bending phenomenon. This object, as seen in the photo at the top of this story, is the real deal, with each pixel representing a Herculean effort: hundreds of scientists from 80 institutions around the world collaborating to collect, process, and piece together data fragments.
This discovery was also reported earlier 3 years ago
The discovery was also reported in the scientific journal Astrophysical Journal Letters. The Event Horizon Telescope, an international collaboration of 300 scientists who worked on the feat, held simultaneous press conferences in at least seven countries, including the United States at the National Press Club in the nation’s capital, to share the news.
We finally have the first look at our Milky Way black hole, Sagittarius A*. It’s the dawn of a new era of black hole physics. Credit: EHT Collaboration. #OurBlackHole #SgrABlackHole
Link: https://t.co/Ax7ECRVg8A pic.twitter.com/LRWizSYOy9
— Event Horizon 'Scope (@ehtelescope) May 12, 2022
The image of Sagittarius A*, pronounced “Sagittarius A-Star,” is a monumental accomplishment, the second time scientists have broken through the barrier of invisibility to see a black hole. The first image, released in April 2019, showed the black hole at the center of the Messier 87 galaxy, which was an easier target to capture due to its size, despite being much farther away, at about 53 million light-years. Astronomers estimate that the black hole, known as M87*, is the size of Earth’s eight-planet solar system.
According to Feryal zel, an astronomy and physics professor at the University of Arizona, the second photo provides powerful confirmation to the scientific community.
“We now know that it wasn’t a coincidence — that it wasn’t some aspect of the environment that happened to look like the ring that we expected to see,” she said at a press conference in Washington, D.C. “We now know that what we see in both cases is the heart of the black hole, the point of no return. These two images appear similar because they are the result of fundamental gravitational forces.”
Sagittarius A*, or Sgr A* for short, is much smaller, measuring about 27 million miles across, but it’s no pipsqueak. According to scientists, it is 4 million times more massive than the sun. Consider this to make a difficult number even more perplexing: The mass of the sun is equivalent to 333,000 Earths.
Its Milky Way home is a spiral galaxy
Its Milky Way home is a spiral galaxy, but the center sinks down where the supermassive black hole sits. Stars are zipping around it in all directions. However, the hole, which is frequently anthropomorphized as a space monster in popular culture, is actually quite “gentle,” according to researchers, consuming relatively little from its surroundings.
Black holes are among the most elusive objects in space. The most common type, known as a stellar black hole, is frequently thought to be the result of a massive star dying in a supernova explosion. The material of the star then collapses in on itself, condensing into a small area.
Formation of supermassive black holes
However, the formation of supermassive black holes, which are millions to billions of times more massive than the sun, is even more mysterious than stellar black holes. Many astrophysicists and cosmologists believe that these behemoths lurk at the heart of almost all galaxies. Recent Hubble Space Telescope observations support the theory that supermassive black holes form in the dusty cores of starburst galaxies, where new stars are rapidly produced, but scientists are still working on it.
Surfaces do not exist on black holes, as they do on planets and stars. Instead, they have a limit known as a “event horizon.” It’s past the point of no return. If anything comes too close, it will fall in, never to escape the gravitational pull of the hole.
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