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Astronomers, University of Arizona researchers capture 1st image of Milky Way’s huge black hole

Published: May. 12, 2022 at 9:15 AM MST
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TUCSON, AZ (AP) - Astronomers have unveiled the very first picture of the supermassive black hole at the center of our Milky Way galaxy. Nearly all galaxies are believed by astronomers to have giant black holes at their center, where light and matter cannot escape.

The hole is 4 million times more massive than the sun, but it’s still 1,000 times smaller than the one in the middle of nearby galaxy Messier 87, the first black hole photographed in 2019 by EHT. For years, scientists had seen stars orbiting around something invisible, compact, and very massive at the center of our galaxy. This leads them to believe that the object called Sagittarius A* or Sgr A* (pronounced “sadge-ay-star”) is a black hole. Because of the hole’s darkness, we can’t actually see it. However, the dark central region called the “shadow” and the glowing gas around it in the photo prove it exists.

“We have two completely different types of galaxies and two very different black hole masses, but close to the edge of these black holes, they look amazingly similar,” said Sera Markoff, co-chair of the EHT Science Council and professor of theoretical astrophysics at the University of Amsterdam.

Because of the hole’s darkness, we can’t actually see it. However, the dark central region...
Because of the hole’s darkness, we can’t actually see it. However, the dark central region called the “shadow” and the glowing gas around it in the photo proves it exists.(Arizona's Family)

How close is the hole? Experts say it’s around 27,000 light-years away, so pack your bags if you’ve got around 366,930,000 years to spare! Its distance away makes it very difficult for astronomers to get pictures of them, so a global research team called the Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration used eight synchronized radio telescopes using long exposure to create the photo. Researchers at the University of Arizona provided two of those telescopes.

“Now we can study the differences between these two supermassive black holes to gain valuable new clues about how this important process works,” said EHT scientist Keiichi Asada from the Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics at Academia Sinica in Taipei.

This image has been in the making since the early 1990s when scientists, including Fulvio Melia, a professor at UArizona’s Department of Physics, began studying whether or not it was possible to photograph Sgr A*.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Copyright 2022. All rights reserved.