WASHINGTON – The world’s first image of a chaotic supermassive black hole in the center of our Milky Way galaxy shows not a voracious space destroyer, but what astronomers on Thursday called a “gentle giant” who sits on an almost starvation diet.
Astronomers believe that almost all galaxies, including our own, have these giant black holes in their noisy and crowded center, where light and matter cannot escape, making it very difficult to obtain their images.
Light bends and twists under the action of gravity when it is sucked into the abyss along with superheated gas and dust.
The color image, presented on Thursday, was obtained from the international consortium behind the Event Horizon Telescope, a collection of eight synchronized radio telescopes around the world. Getting a good image was hard; previous efforts have found that the black hole is too hopping.
“She gurgled and gurgled when we looked at her,” said Ferial Ozel of the University of Arizona.
She described him as a “gentle giant”, announcing the breakthrough along with other astronomers involved in the project.
The picture also confirms Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity: the black hole has exactly the size dictated by Einstein’s equations. This is about the size of Mercury’s orbit around our sun.
Black holes absorb galactic material, but Ozel said this one “eats very little.”
Another astronomer said it was equivalent to man eating one grain of rice over millions of years.
“Black hole photography is the hardest thing to think about,” said astronomer Andrea Gez of the University of California, Los Angeles. She was not part of the telescope team, but won the Nobel Prize for discovering the Milky Way black hole in the 1990s.
She said that the image of “my child” is exactly what it should be – a horrible orange-red ring with full black in the middle.
Scientists expected that the black hole of the Milky Way would be harder, especially since the only other image from another galaxy shows a much larger and more active black hole.
“It’s a cowardly lion of black holes,” said project scientist Jeffrey K. Bauer of the Taiwanese Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the Sinik Academy.
Because the black hole was “sitting on a starvation diet,” so little material gets to the center, and that allows astronomers to look deeper, Bauer said.
The Black Hole of the Milky Way is called Sagittarius A (with an asterisk denoting a star). It is close to the constellation Sagittarius and Scorpio and is 4 million times more massive than our sun.
Bauer said this is probably more typical for being at the center of most galaxies: “just sit back and do very little.”
Incredibly hot, trillions of degrees, Ozel said.
The Black Hole of the Milky Way is much closer, about 27,000 light-years from us. The light year is 5.9 trillion miles.
To get the picture, eight telescopes had to be so closely coordinated “in a process similar to how everyone shakes hands with everyone in the room,” said astronomer Vincent Fish of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Astronomers worked with data collected in 2017 to obtain new images. The next step will be a film about one of those two black holes, and maybe both, Fish said.
The project cost almost $ 60 million, $ 28 million from the US National Science Foundation.
Although it is quieter here than expected, the Milky Way center is an important place to explore, Gez said.
It’s “like downtown, all the more extreme. It is crowded. Everything is going fast, ”Gez said in an interview. “We live in the suburbs (in the spiral arm of the galaxy). Everything is calm here ”.
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