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Taiwan astronomers reveal 1st image of supermassive black hole in Milky Way

'Smiling baby' SgrA* has mass 4 million times greater than sun, 27,000 light years from Earth

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(Academia Sinica image)

(Academia Sinica image)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Astronomers in Taiwan on Thursday (May 12) joined over a dozen teams across the globe in simultaneously revealing the first image of a supermassive black hole at the heart of the Milky Way galaxy.

Academia Sinica's Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics held a joint press conference at 8:40 p.m. with 12 other research units from around the world which are taking part in the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) collaboration. During the press conference, astronomers revealed the first image of Sagittarius A* (SgrA*), a supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way galaxy.

The hole in the center of SgrA* has a mass of 4 million solar masses. The challenge for the team in capturing the image was interference from the multitude of stars, gas, and dust clouds strewn between Earth and the black hole.

The EHT collaboration seeks to obtain images of black holes and consists of eight radio telescopes scattered across the Earth. Because they span many different areas, they form a virtual array telescope as large as the Earth.

In 2019, the team successfully captured a historic first image of a black hole, M87*, which is 55 million light years from Earth in the center of the Messier 87 galaxy and has a mass 6.5 billion times greater than the sun. The latest black hole to be captured, SgrA*, is substantially smaller with a mass of about 4 million times that of the sun and is much closer at a distance of 27,000 light years from Earth.

Academia Sinica President James Liao (廖俊智) said t the image of SgrA* was taken at the same time as M87* in 2017, but because it is much closer to Earth, plasma swirling around the black hole is more pronounced and the gas surrounding it rotates much faster, taking more time to filter out this interference. Comparing the two black holes, Liao said that they both have ring structures with silhouettes and halos, but SgrA* is smaller and more difficult to observe, so the scientific achievement was more significant, and it also proved the predictions of Einstein's general theory of relativity with its strong gravitational fields.

Liao described the appearance of SgrA* to that of a "baby smiling." He said the successful capture of SgrA* by the multinational team is direct proof that the winners of the 2020 Nobel Prize were correct in stating that black holes are a prediction of the theory of relativity and that a supermassive black hole is located in the core of the Milky Way. He emphasized the discovery has "again shown Taiwan's continued role in the world's most important scientific discoveries."

Taiwan astronomers reveal 1st image of supermassive black hole in Milky Way
(Academia Sinica image)