Black hole at center of Milky Way pictured for first time

Milky Way black hole
Milky Way black hole(NASA)
Published: May. 12, 2022 at 3:32 PM EDT
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(NBC) - The first image of the Milky Way’s supermassive black hole was revealed Thursday, providing the first direct visual evidence of “the gentle giant” that lies at the center of our galaxy.

The photo, which shows an oval-shaped void surrounded by a bright ring of glowing gas, is only the second image captured of a black hole, and it is the first to provide a detailed glimpse of the immense feature, dubbed Sagittarius A*, at the Milky Way’s core.

“For decades, astronomers have wondered what lies at the heart of our galaxy, pulling stars into tight orbits through its immense gravity,” Michael Johnson, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said in a statement.

Now, scientists have the first direct image that confirms Sagittarius A* is indeed a black hole.

The research was conducted by an international team of astronomers known as the Event Horizon Telescope, which is made up of more than 300 scientists from 80 different institutions around the world.

The findings were published Thursday in a special issue of The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Sagittarius A* is about 27,000 light-years away and is 4 million times more massive than the sun. It’s thought that almost all galaxies contain a black hole at their center, but since these behemoths do not emit light, it is challenging for astronomers to get direct views of them.

Sagittarius A* is completely dark, but the photo captured a glowing ring around a cloaked center — what astronomers identified as the black hole’s telltale shadow, said Feryal Özel, a professor of astronomy and astrophysics at the University of Arizona and a member of the research team.

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