The Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration used eight synchronized radio telescopes around the world to make the groundbreaking image.
Beth Dalbey , Patch Staff
Astronomers on Thursday gave the world its first glimpse of a supermassive black hole in our Milky Way galaxy, a “gentle giant” on a near-starvation diet, despite a gravitational force so powerful it bends space and time, surrounding the abyss with a bright ring of light.
The colorized image released Thursday is the first direct confirmation of the black hole, known as Sagittarius A*, located near the border of Sagittarius and Scorpius constellations some 27,000 light-years from Earth. The black hole is 4 million times more massive than our planet’s sun, astronomers said at the news conference, held at the European Southern Observatory headquarters in Garching, Germany.
The image was captured by the Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration , a collection of eight synchronized radio telescopes placed around the world to form a virtual Earth-size telescope for the purpose of capturing images of black holes.
Astronomers believe all galaxies have a black hole at their core. Along with superheated gas and dust, light is sucked in and chaotically bent and twisted by the powerful gravitational force, astronomers explained.
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Geoffrey Bower, from the Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics, Academia Sinica, Taipei, said in a news release that he and his colleagues were “stunned by how well the size of the ring agreed with the predictions from Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity.”
“These unprecedented observations have greatly improved our understanding of what happens at the very centre of our galaxy, and offer new insights on how these giant black holes interact with their surroundings,” he said.
The black hole itself isn’t a new discovery. But previous attempts to capture images of it had been unsuccessful.
Astrophysicist Feryal Ozel, of the University of Arizona, called the black hole “the gentle giant in the center of our galaxy. ” Black holes swallow galactic material in their direct path, but this one is “eating very little,” Ozel said at the news conference, according to an Associated Press report.
“What’s more cool than seeing the black hole at the center of our own Milky Way?” Katherine Bouman, an astronomer at Caltech, said at the news conference.
In 2019, the same consortium released an image of a black hole from a deep-space Messier 87 — or M87 — galaxy 53 million light-years away. For perspective, a light-year is 5.9 trillion miles.
Astronomers said the two black holes look similar. And although describe as supermassive, Sagittarius A* is more than a thousand times smaller and less massive than M87.
“We have two completely different types of galaxies and two very different black hole masses, but close to the edge of these black holes they look amazingly similar,” Sera Markoff, a University of Amsterdam professor of theoretical astrophysics, said in a news release. “This tells us that General Relativity governs these objects up close, and any differences we see further away must be due to differences in the material that surrounds the black holes.”
More than 300 researchers from 80 institutes around the world contribute to the collaboration. The project to capture the image cost nearly $60 million, with $28 million coming from the U.S. National Science Foundation.
The Associated Press contributed reporting.
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