This is the first image of the black hole at the center of our galaxy
The supermassive blackhole at the heart our Milky Way galaxy was photographed for the first-ever time. It gives astronomers valuable insight into the interactions between black holes and their surroundings.
The object, known as Sagittarius A*, was captured by the Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration, the same global team that took the famous first-ever picture of a black hole inside the Messier 87 (M87) galaxy in 2019. The hole is completely dark, but it’s surrounded by a bright ring made of glowing gas. This glow is caused by the hole’s own gravity.
The picture was made possible by linking eight existing radio observatories across the globe to form a single “Earth-size” virtual telescope that collected data for many hours across multiple nights.
This new image might look very similar to the 2019 one of M87*, but the masses of the two black holes and the types of galaxies surrounding them are very different. The researchers were able to work out that Sagittarius A*, which sits at the center of our small spiral galaxy, consumes gas at a much slower rate than M87*, which resides at the center of a giant elliptical galaxy and ejects a powerful jet of plasma.
Despite being much closer to us, Sagittarius Awas significantly more difficult to capture than M87*. This is because the gas surrounding Sagittarius Acompletes an orbit in just minutes compared with days to weeks for the gas orbiting the much larger M87*, causing the brightness and pattern of the gas to change rapidly. The team compared the process to “trying take a clear photo of a puppy chasing its tail.” They developed sophisticated tools to account for gas movement to make the black hole visible.
“If Sagittarius Awere the size of a doughnut, M87would be the size of the Allianz Arena, the Munich football stadium just a few kilometers from where we are today,” Sara Issaoun, NASA Einstein fellow at the Harvard & Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, told a press conference at the European Southern Observatory in Germany. “This similarity shows us a key feature of black holes, regardless of their size or environment. Once you arrive at the edge of a black hole, gravity takes over.”
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