Astronomers capture the first image of the Milky Way’s massive black hole

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The world’s first image of the chaotic supermassive black hole at the center of our own galaxy, the Milky Way, depicts not a voracious cosmic destroyer, but what astronomers Thursday called a “gentle giant” on a diet. near starvation.

WASHINGTON (AP) — The world’s first image of the chaotic supermassive black hole at the center of our own galaxy, the Milky Way, depicts not a voracious cosmic destroyer, but what astronomers Thursday called a “gentle giant” on a diet. near starvation.

Astronomers believe that almost all galaxies, including our own, have these giant black holes at their center, where light and matter cannot escape, making it extremely difficult to get pictures of them. Light is bent and twisted by gravity as it is sucked into the abyss with superheated gas and dust.

The colorized image unveiled on Thursday comes from the international consortium behind the Event Horizon Telescope, a collection of eight synchronized radio telescopes around the world. Previous efforts to capture a good image have found the black hole too jittery.

“It was gurgling and gurgling as we watched it,” said Feryal Ozel of the University of Arizona.

She described it as a “gentle giant” while announcing the breakthrough along with other astronomers involved in the project. It also confirmed Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity by being precisely the size that Einstein’s equations dictate. This one is about the size of Mercury’s orbit around our sun.

Black holes gobble up galactic matter, but Ozel said this one “eats very little.” That’s the equivalent of a person eating a single grain of rice for millions of years, another astronomer said.

Scientists expected the Milky Way’s black hole to be more violent, but “it turned out to be a softer, more cooperative black hole than what we had simulated,” Ozel said. “We love our black hole.”

“It’s the cowardly lion of black holes,” said project scientist Geoffrey C. Bower of Taiwan’s Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics Academia Sinica.

Because the black hole is “on a starvation diet,” so little matter falls into the center, allowing astronomers to look deeper, Bower said.

The Milky Way’s black hole is called Sagittarius A (asterisk), near the boundary of the constellations Sagittarius and Scorpius. It is 4 million times more massive than our sun.

This is not the first black hole image. The same group released the first in 2019 and it was from a galaxy 53 million light years away that is 1,500 times larger than our own galaxy. 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 kilometers).

To get the image, the eight telescopes had to coordinate so closely “in a process similar to everyone shaking hands with everyone in the room,” said Massachusetts Institute of Technology astronomer Vincent Fish.

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

“What’s cooler than seeing the black hole at the center of our own Milky Way,” said Katherine Bouman of the California Institute of Technology.

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Follow Seth Borenstein on Twitter at @borenbears

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

Seth Borenstein, Associated Press






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