Black hole hunters look at the center of the Milky Way galaxy

WASHINGTON, May 10 (Reuters) – Residing at the center of our spiral-shaped galaxy, the Milky Way, is a beast – a supermassive black hole possessing 4 million times the mass of our sun and consuming all material, including the gas, dust and stars wandering in its immense gravitational pull.

Scientists used the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT), a global network of observatories working collectively to observe radio sources associated with black holes, to study this inhabitant of the Milky Way and announced on Thursday that they may finally have obtained a picture. of this one. The black hole is called Sagittarius A*, or SgrA*.

The researchers involved in this international collaboration declined to disclose the nature of their announcement ahead of scheduled press conferences, but issued a press release calling it “a groundbreaking result at the center of our galaxy.”

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In 2019, the EHT team unveiled the very first photo of a black hole. The image – a bright ring of red, yellow and white surrounding a dark center – showed the supermassive black hole at the center of another galaxy called Messier 87, or M87.

The researchers also focused their work on Sagittarius A*, located about 26,000 light-years – the distance light travels in a year, or 9.5 trillion kilometers – from Earth.

“One of the objects we hope to observe with the Event Horizon Telescope … is our own black hole in our own backyard,” said Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics astrophysicist Shepherd Doeleman, former EHT project director, during from a July 2021 conference. scientific presentation.

Black holes are extraordinarily dense objects with such strong gravity that not even light can escape.

There are different categories of black holes. The smallest are so-called stellar-mass black holes formed by the collapse of massive individual stars at the end of their life cycle. There are also intermediate-mass black holes, an increase in mass. And finally, there are the supermassive black holes that inhabit the center of most galaxies. These are thought to appear relatively soon after the formation of their galaxies, devouring huge amounts of matter to grow to colossal size.

The EHT project was launched in 2012 to attempt to directly observe the immediate surroundings of a black hole. A black hole’s event horizon is the point of no return beyond which everything — stars, planets, gas, dust, and all forms of electromagnetic radiation — is swept into oblivion.

The fact that black holes do not allow light to escape makes viewing them quite difficult. Project scientists searched for a ring of light — superheated disturbed matter and radiation flowing at tremendous speed at the edge of the event horizon — around a region of darkness representing the actual black hole. This is called the shadow or silhouette of the black hole.

Known as the spiral galaxy, the Milky Way seen from above or below resembles a spinning pinwheel, with our sun located on one of the spiral arms and Sagittarius A* located in the center. The galaxy contains at least 100 billion stars.

The M87 black hole is much more distant and massive than Sagittarius A*, located about 54 million light-years from Earth with a mass 6.5 billion times that of our sun. In releasing the photo of this black hole, the researchers said their work showed that Albert Einstein, the famous theoretical physicist, correctly predicted that the shape of the shadow would be almost a perfect circle.

Thursday’s announcement will be made at simultaneous press conferences in the United States, Germany, China, Mexico, Chile, Japan and Taiwan. Dutch radio astronomer Huib Jan van Langevelde is the current director of the EHT project.

Doeleman pointed out the size scale of supermassive black holes.

“There are big things out there and we are small,” Doeleman said. “But it’s also kind of uplifting in a way. We have a lot to explore in the universe.”

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Reporting by Will Dunham, editing by Rosalba O’Brien

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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