They capture the first image of the black hole that is in the center of our galaxy

The international consortium responsible for the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) and the Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC) presented this Thursday the first image obtained of Sagittarius A, the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy, the Milky Way. This black hole is located almost 26,000 light years from Earth, and is so large that its mass is equivalent to four million times that of the Sun.

The image shows the dark central region surrounded by a bright ring-shaped structure, where light is bent by extreme gravity. The result constitutes a overwhelming evidence that the object at the center of the Milky Way is actually a black hole, while contributing fundamental information about the physical nature of these gravitational monsters, which are believed to lie at the center of most galaxies. All the data has been published this Thursday in a special edition of The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Obtaining the photograph has been possible thanks to the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT), a virtual telescope whose mirror would correspond to the size of the Earth, and that it was designed with the aim of capturing the first images of black holes. To achieve this, astronomers synchronize the operation of eight large radio telescopes that are scattered around the planet. Among them is the thirty meter IRAM antenna located in Sierra Nevada (Granada)which has played an essential role in the observations.

“We were surprised by how well the ring size matched the predictions of the general relativity theory of Einstein,” says Geoffrey Bower, principal scientist of the project. “These unprecedented observations have greatly improved our understanding of what is happening at the center of our galaxy and offer new insights into how giant black holes interact with their environment,” adds this astronomer, who works at the Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics – Academia Sinica de Taipei.

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The astronomical team that has achieved this scientific milestone is the same one that in 2019 obtained the first image of a black hole. On that first occasion, portrayed the one located in the center of the galaxy M87, 53.3 million light-years from Earth. The new image presented now has been captured using the same technique as in 2019, built like a puzzle from different photographs taken on different days by the network of telescopes coordinated to function as a single radio telescope.

What is a black hole?

Black holes, described at the beginning of the 20th century by Albert Einstein in his general relativity theoryand theorized among others by Stephen Hawking in the seventies, are a massive concentration of compressed matter that generates a gravitational field so strong that no particle can escape its power of attractionnot even photons.

This astrophysical phenomenon originates from the death of “red giants”, a type of star whose mass is between ten and 25 times greater than that of the Sun. When a “red giant” reaches its end, its own gravitational force causes it to fold back on itself, concentrating its mass on a very small surface, and becoming a “white dwarf”. If this process of extreme gravity continues, the star will eventually collapse into a black hole, bounded by what is known as the “event horizon,” which is the point of no return from which no known object can escape.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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