The image offers the first direct evidence that a large object is at the center of the Milky Way.
Scientists took the first image of the black hole at the center of our galaxy.
The image is not only the first time we’ve seen the supermassive black hole at the heart of the Milky Way, known as Sagittarius A*, but it finally provides direct evidence that it really exists.
Scientists have long suspected that our galaxy is home to such a huge and violent object: stars have been observed to orbit around something compact and massive in the center of the Milky Way. Although it seemed to behave like a black hole, it was invisible and impossible to confirm.
In the new image, the black hole itself remains invisible because it is completely dark. But the image shows the bright glowing ring that surrounds it and shows how light bends around the region.
The researchers describe the black hole as “the glue that holds the galaxy together.” “It is key to our understanding of how the Milky Way formed and how it will evolve in the future,” said Ziri Younsi of University College London, a co-author of the new papers.
It could also explain some of the unusual features of our black hole, such as why it doesn’t have a jet like other galaxies.
The new image follows the first image of a black hole, which was published in 2019 and showed M87*, a much larger example some 55 million light-years away. The new example was created by the same team: the EHT (Event Horizon Telescope) Collaboration, which brings together a network of radio telescopes around the world.
The creation of the latest image involved five years of work by more than 300 researchers from around the world. Although Sagittarius A* is only 27,000 light-years away, capturing the image was the equivalent of taking a picture of a donut on the Moon.
Capturing the image was actually much more difficult than the first and required the development of specialized tools to traverse the swirling gas surrounding the black hole, the scientists explained. Some hoped that the first revealed image would be of our neighboring black hole, but difficulties, including the fact that we can only see the black hole through the stars around us, as well as its smaller size and faster movement, meant that the researchers had to take three more years.
Now, with two examples of black holes, scientists can now study the differences, by comparing and contrasting the two examples.