1 of 6 | The Event Horizon Project on Thursday, May 12, 2022, released the first image first look at the Milky Way black hole, Sagittarius A*, which required eight telescopes around the world and decades or work, according to researchers. Photo by EHT Collaboration/Twitter
ORLANDO, Fla., May 12 (UPI) -- Astronomers who work on the Event Horizon Telescope project revealed the first-ever image of the supermassive black hole in the heart of the Milky Way galaxy.
Researchers presented the new findings at a multi-continent press conference with multiple live streams online.
"This is the first image of the black hole at the center of our galaxy," Sara Issaoun, an astronomer at Harvard's Center for Astrophysics, said during the press conference.
"For decades we have known about this compact object, but today, at this moment, we have direct evidence of its existence," Issaoun said.
The telescope, a series of eight synchronized radio telescopes spread across the globe, in 2019 produced the first-ever close-up image of a black hole.
Decades of data indicate that a cosmic monster -- a super massive black hole named Sagittarius A* -- lurks at the heart of the Milky Way, which follows the expectation that most other galaxies across the universe have them, too, the astronomers said.
The telescope has been peering into center of the galaxy for several weeks, with many scientists speculating that the news could be the first-ever image of the Milky Way's galactic center.
"We've combined eight of the world's greatest telescopes to take this picture," José L. Gómez, a research scientist of the Institute of Astrophysics of Andalucía, said during the press conference.
"It was like trying to take a picture of a child running at night," Gómez said.
The image released in 2019 was of a different supermassive black hole, 53 million light-years from the Milky Way, in a galaxy known as Messier 87, or M87.
From the images, astronomers can compare the two objects. The images look strikingly similar, but the black holes are very different. For instance, SgrA* is approximately a million times less massive than the one in M87, and it also consumes gas at a much slower rate.
"Despite all these differences, the images look very similar," Issaoun said. "This reveals to us a key aspect of black holes: no matter their size or environment, once you arrive at the edge of a black hole, gravity takes over."
Researchers said that these ground-breaking mages are only possible with a telescope like the EHT. By combining the power of multiple radio telescopes around the globe, the team has created one super telescope that they can use to learn more about black holes.
In the image, radio waves create the glow around the dark heart of the black hole, which is called its shadow, which can provide astronomers with details about the black hole's properties.
"The size of a black hole shadow is proportional to its mass," Issaoun said. "We've determined that the size of SgrA* is indeed four million times larger than the size of the sun."
Issaoun said that this discovery is exciting because it confirms predictions that are based on stellar orbits.
In 2019, the team who captured the image of the M87 black hole, were able to make similar measurements, gleaning information on its magnetic field and its surrounding environment.
More recently, the suite of telescopes has increased in number, increasing to 11, which will help improve future images of SgrA* and other black holes.