What just happened? On Thursday, astronomers unveiled an image of the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way galaxy, which is four million times the size of our sun. The image released today was created by a global research team using observations from a worldwide network of radio telescopes. Although we can’t see the black hole itself because it’s completely dark, astronomers have been able to capture its telltale characteristic: a dark center surrounded by a bright ring-shaped structure.
The huge gravitational pull of the black hole bends light at the edges, creating the donut-like shape seen in the image.
“We were stunned by how well the size of the ring agreed with the predictions of Einstein’s general theory of relativity.” said EHT Project Scientist Jeffrey Bauer of the Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics, Academia Sinica, Taipei. “These unprecedented observations have greatly improved our understanding of what is happening at the very center of our galaxy and offer new insights into how these giant black holes interact with their surroundings.”
This is not the first photo of a black hole. That honor goes to an image released by astronomers in 2019 that highlights the black hole at the center of a galaxy. Galaxy Messier 87 about 55 million light-years away. However, today’s issue is our first look at Sagittarius A*.
The two black holes are visually similar, despite the fact that Sagittarius A* is over a thousand times smaller than M87*.
The researchers are delighted that they now have images of two black holes of vastly different sizes. With them, they will be able to continue their exploration of how gravity behaves in these unique environments.
The results of the team are published in Letters from an astrophysical journal for those who want to dig deeper.
Image credit Collaboration with the Event Horizon Telescope
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