Found lurking at the heart of galaxy, a monster black hole

James Marshall
November 2, 2018

In a path-breaking discovery, astronomers have observed a supermassive black hole at the centre of the Milky Way galaxy sucking blobs of hot gas toward their doom at a blistering 30% of the speed of light. Sagittarius A* is believed to be a supermassive black hole with a mass 4 million the times of the sun and located roughly 25,000 light-years from Earth. The flare ups began after material orbited close to the the black hole's event horizon, or point of no return.

An worldwide team of scientists used the GRAVITY tool mounted on the interferometer the Very large telescope for observations of flashes of infrared radiation coming from the accretion disk around Sagittarius A* is a massive object in the center of the milky Way.

In addition, they've identified a new piece of black hole anatomy-the ISCO, or "innermost stable circular orbit", which is an area just beyond the event horizon.

Observing the action so close to the galactic center, known as Sagittarius A*, is extremely challenging because it is distant, small, and shrouded in gas and dust. Four telescopes of ESO's VLT provided the light which was combined by the GRAVITY instrument. "Astronomers have observed material as close as you can get to a black hole without being consumed by it", Josephine Peters, an astrophysicist at University of Oxford who wasn't involved in the study, said.

"It's mind-boggling to actually witness material orbiting a massive black hole at 30% of the speed of light", said Oliver Pfuhl, a scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics.

The team published their findings on Wednesday in the Journal of Astronomy & Astrophysics. "GRAVITY's tremendous sensitivity has allowed us to observe the accretion processes in real time in unprecedented detail".

The flares the GRAVITY instrument detected provide long-awaited confirmation that the object in the center of our Galaxy is a supermassive black hole.

The study leader Reinhard Genzel from MPE said: "This has always been one of our dream projects, but we dared not to hope, that it would be so soon realized". GRAVITY was also used for other marvelous experiments.

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