Over a decade ago, Muse sang about a "Supermassive black hole," which at the time was nothing more than rock n' roll fantasy and wordplay at its best. Still, today scientists are releasing photos of an actual supermassive black hole, and things just got a lot more real.
The Milky Way Supermassive Black Hole
The supermassive black hole is found within our own Milky Way galaxy, which is more than just slightly concerning for everyone who knows how a black hole works. The pictures conclusively offer evidence that black holes are real and are the first concrete evidence that may help us figure out how black holes actually work.
Astronomers believe that black holes sit at the center of galaxies and that the Milky Way has its own. For years scientists have noticed stars within the Milky Way that appear to be orbiting around a large hole, but at the time, they couldn't see what it was. This area was nicknamed Sagittarius A, or Sgr A for short.
What Does a Black Hole Look Like?
While it is impossible to see a black hole since it is, as the name implies, a dark void, we can see the glowing gas that surrounds it.
In fact, the imagery above shows a deep dark circle with a bright ring of swirling gases and light around it. Interestingly enough, when you look at the image, you can see the light bends due to the gravity of the hole. So how big is this black hole? It's over four million times larger than the sun, making it the most prominent object in our galaxy.
How Were Pictures of the Black Hole Obtained?
It is practically impossible to see the Black Hole from the Earth because it is 27,000 light-years away. Essentially, if we could see it, it would look no bigger than a donut left behind on the moon.
However, a team of astronomers created a powerful EHT by linking eight radio observatories together to create one large virtual telescope that then looked at Srg A for several nights in a row. The entire process created one long image, similar to how a photo can be taken with a long exposure time.
Is This the First Black Hole?
While this is the first black hole scientists have found in the Milky Way Galaxy, it is not the first black hole astronomers have located in space. The first was actually a black hole referred to as M87 that sits at the center of the Messier 87 Galaxy. When compared, the two look very similar, but our black hole is relatively smaller, aligned perfectly with the theory of relativity proposed by Einstein decades ago.
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