What is at the center of our galaxy? Decades of calculations and data point to a supermassive black hole about 4 million times more massive than our sun. But we never seen this. That could be about to change.
On May 12, the Event Horizon Telescope project is set to unveil what it calls “groundbreaking results” from its study of the Milky Way. Although details are scarce on exactly what will be revealed, there are strong chances that astronomers were able to snap a picture of the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way for the first time.
In April 2019, the EHT collaborationthe supermassive beast at the center of the Messier 87 galaxy, nicknamed M87*.
The Event Horizon Telescope was able to generate the image using eight radio telescopes from around the planet. The synchronization of these telescopes produced the image at the top of this article. Although it looks a bit like a blurry campfire, it was a groundbreaking result: the first time humans had laid eyes on the most fascinating and puzzling objects in the universe.
Other works revealedenabling scientists to better understand the environment approximately the black hole.
But the EHT was not only studying the M87*. Its suite of telescopes had also been focused on the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way known as Sagittarius A*, or Sgr A*. The black hole is about 4.3 million times more massive than the sun and is just 25,000 light-years from Earth – close, in cosmic terms. For comparison, M87* is worth about 6 billion times more massive and about 50 million light-years from Earth.
Sgr A* imaging is much more difficult than M87* because there is much more thing – cosmic gas and dust – which interfere with radio telescopes as they look towards the core of our home galaxy. That’s why it was “easier” (and I use that term very loosely) to get a shot of M87* first.
But…could the EHT have overcome these problems? Announcing a result like this means something big is coming, and it’s the same playbook the collaboration used to announce the results of M87*. To be clear from the start, the press releases from the EHT collaboration did not suggest that we were going to get a new black hole photo. They just call it a breakthrough discovery in the Milky Way, but given the history of the EHT, it’s hard to imagine what else it could be.
What is a black hole? The dark and mysterious monsters of the universe
View all photos
This makes it hard to say exactly what the breakthrough result will be, my bet would be on the second photo of a black hole and the first image of our galaxy’s cosmic monster.
After talking to astronomers not associated with the EHT project on Thursday and scrolling through Twitter, it seems almost everyone believes it will be an image of the dark heart of our galaxy.
So, astronomers, I beg of you: just tell us a great photo of Sgr A* is coming. Tell us we can see the supermassive black hole in the Milky Way on May 12. We put two and two together! This is not a Marvel movie! You don’t have to give us that post-credits scene to tease us about what’s next. We know what you’re doing, and we’re buying tickets to the show anyway.
And, if this isn’t another black hole image, then radio telescopes have found something. other which justifies such a foreshadowing – we will always want to connect.
The results will be presented at a press conference on May 12 at 6 a.m. PT (9 a.m. ET), and you can follow. It will be streamed live on the US National Science Foundation’s website, and CNET is sure to have coverage so you can follow here. Come back on Thursday.