Astronomers capture first picture of Milky Way’s massive black hole

WASHINGTON (AP) — On Thursday, the world saw the first wild but blurry image of the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy, which astronomers dub a “gentle giant” on a near-starvation diet.

Astronomers believe that nearly all galaxies, including our own, have these massive black holes at their centers from which light and matter cannot escape, making images of them difficult to obtain. When light is sucked into the abyss along with superheated gas and dust, it bends and twists chaotically due to gravity.

The color image, released Thursday, comes from the international consortium behind the Event Horizon Telescope, a group of eight synchrotron radio telescopes around the world. Previous efforts have found that the black hole at the center of our galaxy is too jumpy to get a good picture.

Announcing the breakthrough, Feryal Ozel of the University of Arizona called the black hole “the gentle giant at the center of our galaxy.” The black hole devoured the Milky Way’s material, but Ozer said this “eats very little.”

The Milky Way’s black hole, known as Sagittarius A (asterisk), is near the boundary between the constellations Sagittarius and Scorpius. Its mass is 4 million times that of our sun.

“There’s nothing cooler than seeing the black hole at the center of our galaxy,” Caltech astronomer Kathryn Bouman said in a news release.

This isn’t the first image of a black hole. The same group released the first in 2019, and it came from a galaxy 53 million light-years away. The Milky Way’s black hole is much closer to us, about 27,000 light-years away. A light-year is 5.9 trillion miles (9.5 trillion kilometers).

The project cost nearly $60 million, including $28 million from the National Science Foundation.

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Follow Seth Borenstein on Twitter @borenbears

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The Associated Press Health and Science Division was supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Division of Science Education. The Associated Press is solely responsible for all content.

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