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One exciting announcement in the scientific community recently is that, last week, a photo was released of the black hole at the center of the Milky Way. This is an unprecedented accomplishment that marks an important step in the future of our understanding about outer space. Read on below to learn about the newly photographed Milky Way black hole.
Sagittarius A* is a massive black hole spanning an estimated 16 million miles in diameter that lies directly at the center of the Milky Way galaxy. The black hole has a mass of 4.154±0.014 million solar masses, and a single solar mass is 333,000 times the size of earth.
For decades, scientists have been searching to discover what’s located at the center of the galaxy, pulling stars and solar systems into orbit through a massive gravitational force. The photograph of Sagittarius A* confirmed that it is indeed a black hole, which helps scientists and astronomers to better understand the makeup of our galaxy.
When was Sagittarius A* discovered?
Though this marks the first time Sagittarius A* has ever been photographed, scientists started believing there was a black hole at the center of our galaxy as early as the 1980s. Sagittarius A* gives off a large amount of unusual radio waves, which were initially observed in 1933, and scientists have been trying to learn more about it ever since.
How was it “photographed”?
On May 12, the Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration released an image of Sagittarius A* that they had developed based on radio data from 2017. The data was obtained from eight radio telescopes across the world over the course of five nights. It took a whopping five years of calculations for the data to be processed into the image.
Interestingly, the amount of data extracted from these radio telescopes each night was so much that they weren’t able to send it over the internet, and they had to ship physical hard drives to where the data was processed into the image we see today.
Is this the first black hole ever photographed?
This is actually the second black hole that’s ever been photographed. The first-ever image of a black hole was released in 2019 by the same team that captured this one, and it depicts the supermassive black hole at the center of the M87 galaxy.
The capture of two separate black holes within three years of each other makes it clear that the technology used to explore and catalog space has come a long way and is continuing to improve.
Why is this important?
So why is this discovery important? Well, for starters, anything that helps us better understand space and our galaxy is crucial to continuous space exploration, searching for intelligent life, and potentially making humanity multi-planetary.
There are a wide variety of scientific applications for this new data, and multiple research papers have already been published on the topic in the week since the image was released.