On Thursday, the world got a glimpse of the first wild but mysterious image of the supermassive black hole at the center of our Milky Way, as astronomers dubbed it a “gentle giant” on a diet close to starvation.
Astronomers believe that almost all galaxies, including our own, have these giant black holes at their center, where no light and matter can escape, making it extremely difficult to get images of them. The light bends and twists chaotically due to gravity as it is sucked into the abyss along with the protected gas and dust.
The color image unveiled Thursday is from the international consortium behind the Event Horizon Telescope, a group of eight synchronized radio telescopes around the world. Previous efforts have found that the black hole in the center of our galaxy is too fast to get a good picture.
Feryal Ozel of the University of Arizona called the black hole a “gentle giant at the center of our galaxy” while announcing the breakthrough. Black holes gobble up galactic material, but Ozil said this “eats very little.”
The black hole of the Milky Way is called Sagittarius A (asterisk), near the border of the constellations Sagittarius and Scorpio. It is 4 million times larger than our sun.
“What’s more amazing than seeing a black hole at the center of our Milky Way,” Caltech astronomer Catherine Bowman told a news conference.
This is not the first image of a black hole. The same group released the first set in 2019 and it was from a galaxy 53 million light-years away. The Milky Way’s black hole is much closer, about 27,000 light-years away. A light year is 5.9 trillion miles (9.5 trillion km).
The project cost nearly $60 million with $28 million from the US National Science Foundation.
Follow Seth Borenstein on Twitter at @borenbears
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