Scientists unveil image of massive black hole at the center of the Milky Way

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: View of the Milky Way in the Puyehue National Park area near the city of Osorno, Chile, on May 8, 2008. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado/File photo

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Will Dunham

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Scientists made their first look at the monster lurking at the center of our galaxy on Thursday, revealing an image of a supermassive black hole swallowing any matter roaming its massive gravity.

This black hole — known as Sagittarius A*, or SgrA* — is the second black hole to be imaged. This feat was accomplished by the same Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) international collaboration that launched its first photo in 2019 https://eventhorizo​​ntelescope.org/press-release-april-10-2019-astronomers -capture-first-image-black holes in black holes – black holes at the centers of different galaxies.

Sagittarius A* is 4 million times the mass of the Sun and is about 26,000 light-years from Earth—the distance light travels 5.9 trillion miles (9.5 trillion kilometers) in a year.

Black holes are extremely dense objects whose gravitational pull is so strong that not even light can escape, making them very challenging to observe. The event horizon of a black hole is a point of no return, where everything—stars, planets, gas, dust, and all forms of electromagnetic radiation—is dragged into oblivion.

Project scientists are already looking for a halo around the dark region that represents the actual black hole — superheated destruction matter and radiation swirling at breakneck speed at the edge of the event horizon. This is called the shadow or silhouette of the black hole.

The Milky Way is a spiral galaxy containing at least 100 billion stars. From above or below, it looks like a spinning pinwheel, with our Sun on one of the spiral arms and Sagittarius A* in the center.

This 2019 image of the supermassive black hole in a galaxy called Messier 87, or M87, shows a glowing ring of red, yellow and white around a dark center. The M87 black hole is farther and heavier than Sagittarius A*, about 54 million light-years from Earth and 6.5 billion times the mass of the sun.

Although Sagittarius A* is closer to our solar system than M87, it is more difficult to image, the researchers said.

The diameter of Sagittarius A* is about 17 times the diameter of the Sun, which means that it will lie within Mercury’s innermost orbit of the Sun. By contrast, the diameter of M87 would encompass the entire solar system.

“Sagittarius A* is more than a thousand times less massive than M87’s black hole, but since it’s in our own Milky Way, it’s closer to us and should appear slightly larger in the sky,” said the radio astronomer for the EHT data said Lindy Blackburn, a scientist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

“However, the smaller physical size of Sagittarius A* also means that everything changes in Sagittarius A* a thousand times faster than M87. We also have to look at Sagittarius A* through the messy disk of our own galaxy, which blurs and distorts image,” Blackburn added.

The Event Horizon Telescope is a global network of observatories working together to observe radio power sources associated with black holes. The project, which began in 2012, seeks to directly observe the immediate environment of a black hole.

There are different classes of black holes. The smallest are so-called stellar-mass black holes, which form when massive single stars collapse at the end of their lifetimes. There are also intermediate-mass black holes, which have a higher mass. Finally there are the supermassive black holes that inhabit the centers of most galaxies. These are thought to have appeared relatively quickly after their galaxies formed, gobbling up vast amounts of matter to reach their enormous size.

Thursday’s announcement was made during simultaneous press conferences in the United States, Germany, China, Mexico, Chile, Japan and Taiwan.

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