Scientists on Thursday provided the first look at a supermassive black hole at the centre of our Milky Way galaxy, described as the “astronomical discovery of the century” by a Trinity College Dublin professor.
The phenomenon – called Sagittarius A*, or Sgr A* – is only the second one to be imaged. The feat was accomplished by the same Event Horizon Telescope international collaboration that in 2019 unveiled the first photograph of a black hole – that one residing at the heart of a different galaxy.
Sagittarius A* possesses four million times the mass of our sun and is located about 26,000 light years from Earth.
Black holes are extraordinarily dense objects with gravity so strong that not even light can escape, making viewing them a challenge.
A black hole’s event horizon is the point of no return beyond which anything – stars, planets, gas, dust and all forms of electromagnetic radiation – is dragged into oblivion.
The Milky Way is a spiral galaxy that contains at least 100 billion stars. Viewed from above or below it resembles a spinning pinwheel, with our sun situated on one of the spiral arms and Sagittarius A located at the centre.
The discovery has been described by Trinity College Dublin (TCD) Andrews Professor of Astronomy Luciano Rezzolla as the “astronomical discovery of the century”.
Dr Rezzolla said the team at TCD provided “theoretical contributions to the interpretations of the images. Our work consisted in understanding what this image means.”
Dr Rezzolla added that the discovery proved that Albert Einstein was right when he posited the theory of black holes in 1916.
Einstein also posited there are wormholes in the universe between two black holes and a tunnel between them in which, theoretically, it is possible to travel faster than the speed of light and possibly even go back in time.
Dr Rezzolla said the supermassive black hole in our own galaxy is not a wormhole and all the speculation about the latter is “from Hollywood”.
– Additional reporting Reuters